Art and life in China blur for photographer Mo Yi

Mo Yi was born and raised in Tibet, the son of a man who had followed the Chinese Communist Party's call to bring the socialist revolution to the Himalayan region.

But today he is part of a creative explosion in Chinese artistic photography characterised by its powerful political commentary which takes an often harsh look at the party and the social effects of its policies.

"I am not an ethnic Tibetan, but in the 1950s my father followed the call of the Communist Party, so I was born there," said Mo, a sage-like figure with his bald cranium and salt-and-pepper beard.

It is difficult to picture the frail, chain-smoking Mo, now 52, as a professional athlete, but for eight years he played football for a regional team based in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

Eventually, however, photography got into his blood and today his workshop is in an old conservatory near Caochangdi, an artists' village in eastern Beijing now under threat from the bulldozers amid plans to redevelop the area.

Galleries in Caochangdi are hosting until the end of June an exhibit on Chinese artistic photographers like Mo for "Arles in Beijing" - a variation on the famous photography festival held annually in Arles in the south of France.

While his intial works had a link with Tibet, Mo's later photos focus more on the Chinese cities he has lived in since, particularly Tianjin, a port close to Beijing.

Working in black and white, Mo often uses a blurred focus to symbolise the head-spinning social changes China has seen in more than 30 years of spectacular economic growth, often putting himself into the scene.

He also conceives installations, mixing his photographs with props as witnesses of an age gone by. One such display used the beds where workers slept during the mass collectivisation campaigns of Mao Zedong.

The most recent individual exhibition of his works, called "Me and My Surroundings", focused on the often wrenching economic and social changes in China since it began its gradual reopening to the world three decades ago.

The enigmatic black and white images typically show urban landscapes such as Beijing's Tiananmen Square, their human subjects blurred.

The photos are viewed by some as a depiction of a perceived lack of direction in the nation's transformation, and its human impact.

"Arles in Beijing" throws a spotlight on artists fuelling today's lively Chinese art photography scene, exhibition director Berenice Angremy said.

They include artists such as the Gao brothers, who are known, particularly overseas, for their large-format works or use of digital technology, "working on the imaginary and magical," she said.

Gao Zhen and Gao Qiang, whose father was killed during the chaos of the radical Cultural Revolution unleashed by Mao Zedong, often critically portray Mao and other Communist figures.

In one of their works, Mao is shown consorting amiably with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and other tyrannical figures.

Other artists, perhaps less well-known outside China, include those from photojournalism or commercial photography backgrounds, such as Mo, who worked for a time as a photographer for a children's hospital.

"In China, where expression is more complicated, there is a very political photography, more so than in India, for example," said Francois Hebel, director of the original Arles festival in France.

But for Mo, who lost his hospital job after taking part in the 1989 democracy movement centering on Tiananmen, his photos are about more than just politics.

"For me, there is a contradiction in the cities. On the one hand, it is civilised, with cars and computers. But on the other hand, there is the pollution, the rubbish," he said.

"I don't know how to express it, so I blur the images.

"But my goal is not to criticise or attack. But because of the policies in China, the rapid changes in society and my character, they can be regarded as that."

Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tvReview: Too often The Casual Vacancy resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David performs in his play ‘Fish in the Dark'
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Jemima West in Channel 4's Indian Summers (Joss Barratt/Channel 4)
tvReview: More questions and plot twists keep viewers guessing
Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003