Opening the Great Wall
He Chengyao’s action of marching half-nude through an installation piece by a German artist on China’s Great Wall drew wide criticism. Conflicting public responses regarding the politics of female exposure demonstrate the instability of a cultural object called art and what is at stake for those invested in how it represents China. As He shifted from painting to performance art, she made public the suppressed history of her mother’s mental illness after moral criticism and dismissal from her socialist work unit. Her unfolding performances channel this embodied family trauma into a personal politics of gender, trauma, and speechless history. Further experiments enacted a performative chess game with father figures of the Western historical avant-garde. He Chengyao’s transnational dialogue with masculinist avant-garde forms injects her art practice with an awareness of how women’s bodies get caught within and between socialist and capitalist systems of sign making, reproduction, and circulation.