As part of the processing of our massive project in China, "Half the Sky: Intersections in Social Practice Art," several of the artist delegate leaders and I applied for and received a panel at the annual Open Engagement Conference, the artist-led initiative committed to expanding the dialogue around and serving as a site of care for the field of socially engaged art ... this year at Carnegie Melon University in Pittsburgh. Here is the conversational blog we created for the conference catalog:
In April 2014, artist volunteers from the Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA) created an exhibition and interactive events for women artists in China and the U.S. at Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang, China, entitled “Half the Sky: Intersections in Social Practice Art (HTS:IISPA)” We were invited by the academy’s president and gallery director, who wished to create a dialogue between artists and their works about women’s issues. WCA has a 40+ years history of activist art, yet the choices about the collection of art and the events we brought to China were greatly influenced by the political and cultural restrictions there. Here is a conversation about our decision-making and reflections over time about our experience from some of the thirteen working delegates who went to China as key figures in this project
PRISCILLA OTANI: We had a serious debate just prior to our social practice art interactive pieces. I recall that we felt conflicted and debated as to whether we should cancel or go forward with the performances. In the end, we decided to go forward. I felt our discussion, and what ensued, was an important milestone. Some of the unease came from a cultural sensitivity, a feeling of not wanting to impose Western values and standards on Chinese students, artists and academics who may not have the same perspective or readiness. I remember making a comment that our role was to “sow the seeds of discomfort,” to bring forth concepts and ideas that may be new, strange and uncomfortable. Of course I didn’t know if in fact we would have any impact at all, or if we would have even an audience. In the end, I felt very good about the events of the day. And after viewing the short video created by Mido Lee, I was surprised at how much of an impact we did have, and based on recent letters, how the women-based exhibition and performances continue to have on students at the Luxun Academy.
Nearly a year after our Half the Sky project, in what ways have your views and opinions about what happened with our socially-engaged events at the Luxun Academy changed or evolved?
I have a feeling that full, if that is indeed possible, processing of this multi-layered, complicated yet rewarding and surprising project, will take months, if not years, but here is an overview and some initial responses ....
In March 2013, Wei Er Shen, President of LuXun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China invited the Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA), through Jin Deng, to create an art-based cultural exchange and exhibition between artists and essayists juried through WCA and women artists curated in China. He and the Gallery Director Wang Yi Gang were interested in providing an opportunity for Chinese women artists to interact with artists from our organization, to learn more about feminist art history in the west and share their art with our artists. As the Main Representative to the United Nations for and Director of the International Caucus of the Women's Caucus for Art, I enthusiastically embraced this opportunity to direct this project and to further dialogue around women's issues within the framework of an exhibition. In addition to the exhibition, Half the Sky: Intersections of Social Practice Art included a sixteen-member delegation of selected WCA members, thirteen of whom, traveled to Shenyang for the opening of this exhibition and participated in three days of interactive events with the Chinese artists and students of the Academy. Over twenty-five volunteers from the U.S., working in teams, developed, prepped, installed, documented, publicized, fundraised, published, facilitated and traveled to create the many layers of this project. Logistics were beyond daunting, including the bilingual catalog, but, once one begins negotiations with a government such as China, one feels one must proceed, with hopes and bits of promises that the discoveries and connections and knowledge shared between our cultures would, indeed, like child birth, erase the challenges of remote management. And, the results certainly did.
A small village of volunteers made this possible:
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