Inspired by the Opera: Contemporary Chinese Photography and Video

February 13–June 15, 2014

Liu Zheng, An Old Peking Opera Actor Playing a Female Role, Beijing, 1995

Since the mid 1990s, a number of Chinese artists have incorporated the visual vocabulary of Chinese opera into new art forms. This concise exhibition reveals the continued relevance of opera, both within contemporary Chinese society and within the experimental work of individual artists.

It features: a series of black-and-white photographs of elderly actors by Liu Zheng that play with conventions of ethnographic and opera photography; two videos by Chen Qiulin that make use of traditional opera characters to respond to changes wrought by the Three Gorges Dam; The Forbidden City (Zijincheng) by Liu Wei, a lyrical video of theatrical “glove puppets” (budai kuilei) shown publicly for the first time; and videos by Cui Xiuwen that connect to opera in more oblique ways, through performative elements and symbolic props, gestures, and costumes.

Together, the works help illuminate the relationship between contemporary art and China’s cultural heritage.


Inspired by the Opera is curated by Wu Hung, Smart Museum Consulting Curator, Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor of Art History, and Director of the Center for the Art of East Asia at the University of Chicago, in consultation with Stephanie Smith, Smart Museum Deputy Director and Chief Curator.

More information


Inspired by the Opera—Wu Hung on Performativity in Art

Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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