Blog / Yun-Fei Ji: Traditionally Breaking the Mold

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Yun-fei JiBy Kirstie and Danielle

We just read a great story in The New York Times about Brooklyn-based artist Yun-Fei Ji, whose work is part of the exhibition opening next week at the Nasher Museum, “Displacement: The Three Gorges Dam and Contemporary Chinese Art.”

The article inspired us to take a closer look at the artist. Ji discovered art during his childhood while stifled by the oppressive society of the Mao Dynasty in Beijing. After the Cultural Revolution in China, he gravitated toward classical Chinese art as a language to overcome his generation’s aphasia towards its tumultuous past.

Interestingly enough, the traditional style of Chinese painting and calligraphy that became the artist’s signature technique actually defies his formal training at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. We learned that Socialist Realism was the prevailing mode of expression at the time.

Various reviews of Yun-Fei Ji characterize his work as controversial both in style and in criticism of contemporary issues in China. In his current exhibition at James Cohen gallery in New York, Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts, Ji portrays the residual struggles between Chinese communities and their government, such as the displacement of approximately 2 million residents by the massive Three Gorges Dam project. His calming traditional style juxtaposed with volatile content forces the viewer to confront the incompatibility of industrialization and cultural preservation.

His beautiful work struck a cord with Western society at the show in New York this spring. Starting March 25th similar themes will grace the walls of the Nasher Museum in the stunning exhibition, Displacement.

IMAGE: Courtesy of the University of Arkansas.

Kirstie Jeffrey is a Duke junior. Danielle Garver is a Duke senior.

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