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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee