I am very interested in the logic of how governments want to be seen and how individuals want to be seen.”

Born 1979, Guangxi; spent several years in Canada and U.S.A. Lives and works in Beijing

Huang Jingyuan is fascinated by the contradictions and disconnects within Chinese society and between China and the world. The heavily framed pictures of Gossip from Confucius City (2012) look at first glance like black-and-white photographs. In fact, they are acrylic paintings in which European-looking androgynes and movie characters enact dreamlike scenarios in distinctively Chinese settings. (The series’ title refers to the state-run Confucius Institutes, which promote China internationally under the guise of supporting cultural exchange.) The I Am Your Agency series (2013) is even weirder, reproducing in monochromatic oil paint badly composed, banal and downright ugly photos posted by ordinary people online. The title raises questions both aesthetic and social: Is the painter or the photographer the creator here? And are Chinese people their own masters or mere instruments of the state? Huang Jingyuan’s painted photographs compel careful consideration of the kinds of images we usually treat as ephemeral. The tension between appearance and reality animates not only her technique but her imagery, which depicts the collision of traditional and global culture, and the paradox of a nation whose rulers have been forced to liberalise yet see liberty as a threat.

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