Fashion and politics have always been intertwined. Moreover, as there are certain eras during which the connection is more apparent than others, both Chinese fashion designers and artists in more recent years have been subtly (or not so, in some cases) expressing their R-Rated socio-politico opinions en masse. Emily Aspinall goes under the radar and reports.
The limitations of China’s Great Firewall and Censorship make the expression of the self — through Kermodian-critical reverberations — a particularly difficult and daring feat. What’s more, these political statements don’t always go to “plan” — or get well received.
Censorship strays beyond the world of China Fashion, flowing right through into the nation’s art scene. Art censorship is a big problem in China and presents just one more way the government can control public opinion. Art is often a reflection of current affairs, society, culture, but in China, that kind of “stuff” is considered “unerwünscht”.
Despite being Rated X, Chinese artists allow their imaginations to run wild to create political art and fashion, despite all. High Temper time to travel into the unknown and traverse this fascinating movement.
Statements And Struggles
Political fashion statements aren’t exactly a new phenomenon, in fact, they can be traced right back to the days of a certain seductive strategist called Cleopatra — yet for the sake of non-deviation, we shall stick to the more recent past. To name a few, Jean-Paul Gautier first sent men in skirts down the runway back in 1984, despite sharply divided opinions, this was arguably a vital piece of the transgender fashion movement puzzle. McQueen broke ground in 1998 featuring a disabled cover model and Chanel staged a feminist march lead by Cara Delevingne. That’s just naming a few.
Question becomes… Where does China stand in all this modish mayhem? Well, it’s not always an easy ride. With many soulful (feel the sarcasm) spirits these days boasting a fierce online (let us once more emphasize the “online” aspect here) opinion, the safety net and anonymity of a screen make it easy to express hatred — or more vitriol-inclined feelings.
This ad faced a huge online backlash, accusing the brand of trivializing Chinese culture while promoting stereotypes. Major sites such as Taobao and JD.com subsequently removed D&G products from their shopping Walhalla.
Time to face the musical bass lines: The luxury market in China is huge and any famed brand will no doubt struggle without their Chinese consumers.
All Things Art
Censorship strays beyond the world of China Fashion, flowing right through into the nation’s art scene. Chinese artists face the issue of censorship when creating work with political, controversial messages. China’s Great Firewall can be a hurdle in the road for artists and designers wanting to promote their products. The wall is rising, with a lot of people wondering, how high will it go?
Art censorship is a big problem in China, it’s one way the government can control public opinion. Art is often a reflection of current affairs, society, culture, but in China, that kind of stuff is unwanted. Now it’s unlikely that a landscape painting of trees blowing in the wind would be censored, however, add some thick grey smog and the painting becomes a problem; becoming substantially political. Here in the East, free speech is limited in order to create a more “idealized” vision of things.
Ai Weiwei (艾未未 in Chinese) is one of many artists who have been censored due to the political statements they’ve made in the past decades. Born in 1957, Ai resides and works in Beijing. The man even helped bring to life the much-admired Bird’s Nest (鸟巢| niǎocháo in Chinese) Stadium from the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
The artist in August 2018 Instagrammed a snap of his Beijing studio being demolished, captioning the image “Farewell”.
When MoMa Meets Mao
What’s more, a fresh crop of Chinese artists is now responding to significant events, namely, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Mao Zedong inspired sculptures, paintings and drawings are appearing and despite censorship in the middle kingdom, those further afield can appreciate the works. Liao Yibai (廖一百 in Chinese) is a Chinese sculptor who specializes in giant silver stainless steel pop-art sculpture. Liao was born in a missile factory during the war and uses his tough-upbringing to inspire his work. His steel sculpture “Top Secret Hamburger” comments upon China and America’s long, complex history, fuelling his obsession with what he calls “the slow and delicious enlightenment of Western culture.”
On the prowl for expert insights, we spoke to Misha Maruma about such Rated X issues. Maruma is the founder of CNCREATE, a Chinese contemporary art blog and art consultancy based in London and Shanghai.
When asked if he feels the effects of censorship in the Chinese art industry, Maruma explains, “I think in China artists try not to be overtly political anymore. Maybe the generation after the death of Mao in the 1980s was the last of the political artists in China.”
Take, for example, the street art culture that is graffiti. China in 2019 boasts a massive and ever-evolving underground graffiti cult(ure). This phenomenon is a rather unbelievable one, considering that if you put a poster on a public Chinese wall it will be taken down in minutes.
As Maruma puts it, “China Street Art is huge and there are simply too many people involved to mention. Big-name foreign street artists receive invitations to visit China all the time, think Parisian-based Seth. In the next five years, we will see street artists coming out of China who will prove to possess international tagging temptation.” Ceci n’est pas une blague.
Chinese artists in the 2010s are increasingly creating proud and ground-breaking work, with powerful statements to match, in spite of the Great Firewall and Government pressures. No one can predict what will happen in the next few years, but excited, one should be.
Just envision the greatness of cult creation. And so it shall be.
FEATURED IMAGE: DESIGN BY RONG XIAO, THE WRONG HOTEL COLLECTION
MODEL IN FEATURED IMAGE: Team USA Paralympic Powerlifter GARRISON REDD
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LU “LUNA” WEIJIA FOR TEMPER MAGAZINE’S “THE R-RATED ISSUE”. COPYRIGHT @TEMPER MAGAZINE, 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WRITTEN BY EMILY ASPINALL FOR TEMPER MAGAZINE, “THE R-RATED ISSUE”
EDITED BY ELSBETH VAN PARIDON FOR TEMPER MAGAZINE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LU “LUNA” WEIJIA FOR TEMPER MAGAZINE’S “THE R-RATED ISSUE”, #3, 2019. COPYRIGHT @TEMPER MAGAZINE, 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
THE CONTENT AND IMAGERY IN THIS FEATURE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN TEMPER MAGAZINE’S “THE R-RATED ISSUE”, NO. 3, 2019. ANY FORM OF REPRODUCTION WITHOUT PRIOR CONSENT IS PROHIBITED.
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As a freelance journalist, she specializes in Chinese society and fashion, her fascination surrounding the East grew since living and working in a rural ex-fishing village on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Aspinall aims to capture a sense of the colourful and dynamic contemporary China, which continues to revolutionise and evolve.
Aspinall holds an English Literature degree from Sheffield University. She explored the literary canon, starting with old English and ending with the contemporary period, her area of speciality and research is post-war British social realism. While studying, she also on gained experience at the BBC, local publishing houses and copy edited the student newspaper.
Since moving to China, she has written regularly for Temper Magazine,The Shanghaiist and her personal blog. Her interests include gender fluidity, the modern representation of women, sustainability and the underground scene in China.