Chinese print exhibition goes from political to politicised

1 August 2016

A new exhibition of Chinese prints at the University Art Gallery chronicles how Chinese artists responded political and cultural upheaval during the latter half of the 20th century. 

A black and white woodcut on paper print, a portrait of Lu Xun

Li Yitai's Lu Xun, 1974, Woodcut on paper. Morrissey bequest.

Floating Time: Chinese Prints, 1954-2002 is a series of prints produced while China was ruled by Chairman Mao Zedong and since Mao’s death. Works are drawn from the University Art Collection, which holds one of the most significant collections of post-Mao Chinese prints outside of China.

Focusing primarily on works from the 1980s and 1990s Floating Time explores themes around the extraordinary social and cultural transformations brought about by Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms. Among the show’s major themes are changing gender roles, urbanisation, and depictions of rural life. It features famous artists including Hong Hao, Su Xinping, and Chen Haiyan, as well as a number of established printmakers not well known outside China.

“Printmakers responded in a variety of ways to changes in the urban and social fabric, conveying a sense of brilliant progress as well as what has been tossed aside in order to achieve it,” said Dr Stephen Whiteman, a Lecturer in Asian Art at the University who co-curated the exhibition with PhD candidates Minerva Inwald and Bingqing Wei.

“These works highlight how in the aftermath of remarkable change, people related to themselves and each other. Artistic responses are often socially critical, if not overtly political.”

Contemporary Chinese art is best known internationally for large-scale sculpture and installations, performances, and oil painting but printmaking, invented in the 7th century, remains a vibrant art form in China. Featuring works in a variety of printmaking techniques, the exhibition displays stylistic and thematic influences from both China and abroad. It offers a fresh view of art in China in the post-Mao era.

Among the small selection of important Mao-era works in Floating Time is Cheng Mian’s Evening Examination, in which a so-called “barefoot doctor”, a young person from the countryside with rudimentary medical training, pays a nighttime visit to check on a young patient.

“This work highlights the power of images to create idealised images of the world around us, even when reality is often quite different,” said Dr Whiteman.

"It highlights a key theme of the show, the importance of both political and politicised art, which are often related but not the same.”

Exhibition Details

What: Floating Time: Chinese Prints, 1954-2002

Where: University Art Gallery, War Memorial Arch, Quadrangle, Science Road

When: 1 August to 25 November2016

Opening HoursMonday to Friday, 10am-4.30pm and the first Saturday of each month.

Contact:  02 93516883 or


Jocelyn Prasad

Media and Public Relations Advisor
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