Artist Feature: Chen Qiulin


The urbanization in China is so rapid that contemporary Chinese artist Chen Qiulin uses photographs to depict the destructive aspect of replacing old with new.

Chen Qiulin, Garden - The Land Between Us, 2007.
The men carry vases full of plastic flowers; the artificial, extremely bright pink contrasts the monochromatic grays of pollution and grime in the background. Through this juxtaposition, Chen highlights the disparities between the superficial nature of what we desire and the ironically different, socioecological reality. Chen challenges China's ease with the escalating destructiveness, exposing renovation as a vain penetration of the earth and nature.

Chen Qiulin, Garden no. 1, 2007.
However, these works may also be interpreted as optimistic; the men are transporting these blooms in hopes of achieving an unyielding dream of a better future. I learned recently that this fuschia border lining red is a very specific shade called yanzi, or rouge. Chinese opera singers usually wear this color in the form of eyeshadow or blush, and it is a symbolic color of youth, vitality, and often specifically the disposition of women.

Chen Qiulin, Peach Blossom, 2009.
Stills from her film Peach Blossom laments the disappearance of culture with the passage of time. The artist herself assumes the subject of this work, donning a Westernized wedding gown. The newlywed couple looks with brooding disappointment and disconnected confusion at the reality of their surroundings.

(left to right): Chen Qiulin, Twilight, 2009. Chen Qiulin, Peach Blossom, 2009.
In Twilight, we essentially see three generations embodied by the figures in the foreground, and the vanishing point provides a sequential progression of time: The man standing in the back strides forward, confident in the future prospects of rebuilding. The couple clothed in Imperial-era dress look back in nostalgia at the decaying remains of an ancient building, realizing the "new world" holds no place for them. Finally, Chen Qiulin in the foreground turns away from the sad reality, lamenting a closure of the past and exhibiting uncertainty for the future.

Despite these sensitive topics, I find that Chen is able to dictate and challenge them with poetic romanticism and elegance. There are plenty of artists who comment on the illusory aspects of modernization, the rubbish and crime that results from rebuilding civilizations. Yet, Chen's works form beautiful, theatrical, epic narratives. Because of this, I admire her attitude of steadfast bravery instead of victimization and self-pity.

Danielle Wu


  1. Amazing pictures, every pic looks so interesting.

  2. your blog has such amazing inspirations...
    it's really captivating.

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  3. The first one reminds of the state of China I saw when I was there ... every where you go you'd see so much construction going on.

    1. Micaela, I agree! China is a wonderful place of rapid regrowth and reconstruction, yet Chen brings out the moral implications of it, and it's great that she seems to be able to capture it with such accuracy that anyone who has visited China finds it relatable and immediately recognizable. I'd love to hear more about your experiences in China!x

  4. Her photographs are absolutely stunning! I love her juxtaposition of current themes of beauty with those less thought of. There are so many contemporary chinese artists that I really admire- most of them are painters though. Love your blog- definitely following!

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    1. I'd love to hear about the painters you admire!x

  5. I learned something! I didn't know this yanzi color is a symbolism to youth and vitality. I really like Twilight picture on the left. This is really amazing. Are you planning to do something like this in the future, too? I think I would be a huge fan :)

    nyuu |

    1. nyuu, I do plan on studying more and more contemporary Chinese art in the future, and I'm so glad that you're a fan!x

  6. Amazing pictures :)

  7. This is really amazing.... the first two pictures completely Wowed me... outstanding captures!
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  8. Wow amazing and emotional photographs! I definitely see the optimism in the photo with the bride and groom. Very moving!

    xoxo, Tiffany

  9. amazing pictures and I especially love how she added the bride and groom in modern wedding dress ^^