Review: O Zhang at the Frieze Art Fair

O Zhang at Frieze

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To London yesterday to look at my old friend O Zhang’s new show at the Frieze Art Fair in London’s Regent’s Park. Her new work, entitiled The World is Yours (But Also Ours) is being exhibited by the CRG Gallery of New York. O’s space lies at an end of one the big tent’s long corridors and it is dominated by a very large poster print of a young Chinese girl wearing a Western T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “It’s All Good in the Hood”. As usual with Zhang’s work, there’s an ambiviallence to her subject’s expression: here we see a mix of defiance, pride, and shyness. The girls, moreover, stands outside the entrance to Tiananmen Gate in Beijing towering, not only over the viewer, but also above the famous photograph of Mao Zedong, almost as if he were receding into the past. Behind the girl,  a torn police ribbon trails off into the middle distance.

The accompanying 15 photographs follow a similar pattern: young, Chinese girls in garish Western T-shirts standing in front of a significant Beijing landmarks.  Each picture also has a Chinese slogan running along the bottom taken from a classic text from the country’s communist past: “Stability Overides Everything” or “People are the Real Heroes”. In one frame we see a young girl outside the Olympic stadium wearing an Astroboy T-shirt above the slogan of “We are Capable of Everything”. Much of it is extremely witty: one girls holds an I Love China handbag in one hand, while wearing an “Everything is Shit” message on her T-shirt, the Chinese slogan along the foot of the photograph reads “Poverty is not Socialism”, a famous maxim of Deng Xiouping.

Zhang writes in a statement that, “having divided my time equally in recent years between the East and the West, my own experience of my home country is often one of profound ambivalence”. She explores this subject assiduously with this series of pictures that “visually capture the economic and political conflicts in modern day Chinese culture, among them, the identity crisis facing Chinese Youth.” It is a great collection of her work, much more political and direct than anything previously.

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