“Bridal Couples" : On Hybridity in Conceptual Chinese Photography 1995–2009

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University

Abstract: Chinese art of the 1990s responded to the many changes in the environment and thereby to changes in personal lives. Many Chinese artists of the time were therefore concerned with their selves and their works reveal explorations of personal identity. The medium of photography proved particularly suitable for expressing individuality in a rapidly transforming urban society. A growing number of independent conceptual photographic artists departed from official documentary photography, fetching inspiration from international art and postmodern theory. The bridal couple as a motif in conceptual Chinese photography started to appear in the mid-1990s, coinciding with the development of the consumer society, growing market freedom, foreign imports and the creation of an art market. The bridal couple in conceptual tableaux reveals an intriguing mixed appearance: the images introduce subtle recognition of signs and symbols from both near and afar, calling to mind issues of hybridity. Such hybridity is also something which makes interpretation of these images complex. By means of deep-analysis of eight conceptual photographs by seven artists, this study employs Homi K. Bhabha’s concepts to try out a method in which the images are located in the dynamic process of culture, that is in the Third Space. This method opens up the cross-cultural paradoxes as sites for interpretation: thus the focus of this study lies in unlocking the images to interpret them in their hybrid condition. An important challenge has been to lay bare how works with such mixed appearances communicate in their own right, and not as mere imitations of canonised works of art. By evaluating a number of foreign and domestic symbols in the images, new meanings are revealed, depicting a variety of issues tied to the Chinese cultural context. There are many conceivable reasons why artists in China should have adopted foreign symbols as form of expression; a context is outlined so that this type of art can be discussed from the point of view of the history of photography, marriage customs, bridal portraiture and the art market.

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