Xiaoyan Men

A composite life/actual life—using opacity as an artistic strategy in a case study of the life of village women in china

As China steps into the 21st century, every aspect of life is in constant change. I am interested in how to utilise still and moving photography to narrate the changing lives of women in rural China. The project starts from the “composite family group” photographs that I collected from villages.
In this thesis, I analyse several historical photographs and reflect upon the problems of the “grand narrative”, which has been dominated by the propaganda and unified ideology since the1950s. In this context, the “left-behind women” emerges as a central figure, which I am trying to place and problematize in this dissertation. Avoiding categorising the women in my research helped me to approximate what I call their “actual life”. The opacity protected their differences and affected my artistic creation. I explored how to use opacity as an artistic strategy to present the village women and their current life.
The resulting artwork is a 13-minute video entitled She Says and a series of still “family group” photographs. They capture the uncertain nature of “actual life” in fragments. This is the essence of the work and the primary value of the research, which is a glimpse of contemporary village life in China.

By Men, 2014, She Says video still