Julia Andrews may have been the one speaking, but most eyes in the Harn Museum’s auditorium were not on her. Instead, audience members — including local families and UF students — had a hard time looking away from the colorful paintings flashing across the projector behind her as she spoke.
Andrews, an Ohio State University Chinese art professor, visited the Harn Wednesday to talk about female artists in 20th century China to an audience of over 40. The event was developed to complement the museum’s exhibit “She/Her/Hers: Women in the Arts of China,” which opened in March 2022 and will run until April 2024.
“‘She/Her/Hers’ focuses on women’s different roles in art throughout Chinese history,” said Tongyun Yin, curator of Asian art at the Harn. “It’s interesting to see the limitations or constraints that different generations of women have faced and conquered through their artwork.”
During the talk, Andrews spoke about the history of the women’s rights movement in China and also shared her own experiences from her time as a female art student in Beijing. Although female artists around the globe had to combat misogyny to create art throughout the 20th century, Andrew said, the struggle was especially prevalent in China.
One factor unique to China is the importance of Mao Zedong’s talks on the virtues of art, Andrews said. These talks attempted to discourage individual thought and opened the door for more traditional social ideas in China’s urban centers.
“The setback to women’s equality has not been completely overcome even today,” Andrews said.
However, she believes conditions are slowly improving for female artists in China — largely due to greater international travel. Many overseas curators, inspired by feminism, refuse to accept exhibits from Chinese galleries unless they include female-created art, Andrews said. These showings have helped several Chinese women artists enter the mainstream, she said.
“It may be too early to tell if [internationalism] will improve the reputation and careers of women artists,” Andrews said. “But hope seems justified.”
Sloane Murphy, a 19-year-old UF neuroscience freshman, heard about the event through her art class. Murphy attended the talk expecting to learn about the evolution of Chinese art from a purely technical standpoint. Instead, she said, she was pleasantly surprised to emerge with a deeper understanding of women’s history.
“Female art that’s coming from China had to go through multiple wars, revolutions and just setbacks in general to be able to even reach the U.S.,” Murphy said. “I don’t think a lot of people know that or can appreciate that.”
Although she enjoys speaking about Chinese women’s history, Andrews said, her main goal is simply to bring awareness to a historically underrepresented group.
“These artists have been very much under-studied,” Andrews said. “I just like their names to get out, so people will be more aware of them and perhaps more research will be done.”
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