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Asia through new eyes

Deng Zhangyu
Updated: Oct 27,2015 10:49 AM     China Daily

Taiwan-based Ching-Hui Chou’s Animal Farm. [Photo/provided to China Daily]

An influential photo exhibition in the capital, which focuses on the continent, encourages Asian lensmen to look at cultures, conflicts, society and religions in the region.

Asia is in focus at this year’s Beijing Photo Biennial. The event sheds light on Asia, a continent where all the participating photographers live.

The theme of the event is Unfamiliar Asia, and it tries to examine the continent through photography.

On display are photos from 21 Asian countries and regions including China, India, Japan, Israel, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

The photographers’ works focus on cultures, conflicts, society and religions in the region.

Burdens and Desires 2 by Indian-American artist Neil Chowdhury.[Photo/provided to China Daily]

“Although we live on the continent, it doesn’t mean we understand it enough,” says Wang Huangsheng, art director of the biennial and director of the Art Museum of Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Wang says that people in Asia have kept a close eye on the West for a long time. But as for the place where they live and its cultures, religions and customs, they’re not sufficiently aware of the numerous problems facing it.

According to the curatorial team of six including Yuko Hasegawa from Japan and Nili Goren from Israel, the theme of Unfamiliar Asia seems a little serious for a photo biennial. However, they think a direct and individual recording of what photographers see and think may offer a visual way to present a real Asia.

The biennial consists of four parts including a thematic exhibition of photographers’ works from 21 countries and regions, two collection shows of photos of China from collectors and a photography book show.

The thematic show at the Art Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts is made up of four sections. Each presents a separate problem Asia faces via photos, such as the differences between cultures, the diversity of society and the mutual understanding between various cultures.

The section Conflict and Boundary has two big photos of a car full of bullet holes in a deserted area taken by Israeli photographer Gilad Ophir to show the brutality of war. Other photos which also echo the subject are one by Chinese photographer Niu Guozheng of a detention center and Iranian Gohar Dashti’s Untitled Series showing people of various groups in society posing in an unpopulated area.

Some of the other photos on show are artistic works. Taiwan-based Ching-Hui Chou’s Animal Farm series shows models posing in rooms decorated by the artist in zoos to reflect problems like depression and indifference. It took him several years to complete the series.

Chou says his photos are just another way of showing complex problems in society. But instead of just taking photos, he creates scenarios in places people would never think of to allow them to reflect on their lives, and then photographs them.

The market for photos in Asia seems to be getting better now, says Chou.

Some years ago, his works were bought only by collectors from the West, but now Asian collectors are also interested in his work, he says.

“When generations born after the 1990s join the group of art collectors, they will go more for photography because they have grown up in a world made up by photos and videos,” says Chou.

The Day of Perpetual Night by Yang Yongliang from China.[Photo/provided to China Daily]

The biennial runs through Nov 29.

Different parts of the event are being held in different museums and galleries, followed by a series of forums, salons and lectures.

The current event is the second edition of the biennial.

In 2013, the first one, also organized by the Central Academy of Fine Arts, concentrated on works of celebrated photographers from around the world as well as promising young ones.

Wang says that the event aims to support an exchange between the West and the East in photography and encourage artists to use photos as a medium to focus on social issues.