Chinese painter's work addresses middle class

Tuesday, October 7, 2008 | 10:14 p.m. CDT; updated 10:20 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Samantha Genochio expresses her feelings about a painting to her friend Rebecca Prinster. The painting by Ming Zhou was displayed in the craft studio's gallery at MU as part of the Gallery Crawl on Tuesday.

Someone holding a Starbucks cup is an ordinary sight for most Americans. A man purchasing a new car is not unusual to a middle-class person.

The normalcy of these images is part of what MU graduate student Ming Zhou addresses in her art. While Americans view things like Starbucks coffee and cars as everyday, middle-class objects, Zhou says the Chinese are proud of these things.


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In her painting “Good Taste,” a woman with an exaggerated smile holds a Starbucks cup. Similarly, a man with a proud smile unlocks his car in “My New Car.”

“In China, we respect and worship Western culture,” Zhou said. “It has a halo effect. We (the Chinese) should take the halo from Western culture and see it more clearly.”

Zhou’s exhibit “'Glorious' Life” is on display in the MU Craft Studio Gallery. Her reception coincided with the MU Gallery and Culture Crawl on Tuesday evening. The gallery crawl took place at five galleries on the MU campus.

Zhou says she wants to offer a friendly reminder the Chinese people and middle class of the mistakes they make in putting a halo on certain objects. Zhou says she thinks a reminder is more effective than satirizing the topic too much.

Exaggerated smiles, broad brushstrokes and rough texture evoke “a shallow, hasty and boastful mental state” of the new Chinese bourgeoisie or middle class, she said.

Zhou sees herself in her works, too. “The only thing I can do is make fun of myself,” she said, referring to “American Degree,” a sort of self-portrait. The painting shows a Chinese woman in her graduation robe, smiling with pride, standing in front of an American flag.

She hopes Americans viewing her works will put themselves in the position of the Chinese.

“Only when you understand our culture will you understand why we’re proud of these things,” she said. “It’s OK if people say ‘I like it (the art),’ but I want them to say, ‘I get it.'"

The painting “Married to a White Man” stuck out for Stacey Thompson, a viewer of the exhibit. It shows a Chinese woman arm-in-arm with her white boyfriend or husband. Thompson, who spent 18 months living in Tokyo, said the painting was similar to things she witnessed in Japan.

“I saw Japanese women who wanted to have a white foreigner for a husband or boyfriend,” Thompson said. “I think it’s funny that (Zhou) left the man (in the painting) almost completely white because that’s what you were if you were white — the white foreigner.”

“'Glorious' Life” is on display until Oct. 10.

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