COLUMBIA — When Ming Zhou sees a cup of Starbucks coffee, it means more to her than the average caffeine-seeking consumer. In her painting “Good Taste,” which features a Chinese woman holding a steaming cup of Starbucks coffee, she explains how cultural icons, such as Starbucks, that might seem trivial or common to Americans carry higher social importance in China.
“You look at Starbucks as lunch, as normal, but we treat it as symbolic of a person’s status,” Zhou said of cultural differences between the U.S. and China.
What: "The New Face of China: Recent Paintings by Ming Zhou"
Where: Orr Street Studios, 106 Orr St.
When: Through May 15. Gallery hours are noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
More information: imageming.com
Zhou is the new artist featured at Orr Street Studios' main gallery. The exhibit, "The New Face of China: Recent Paintings by Ming Zhou," which opened April 1, features 12 paintings and runs until May 15. The paintings comment on the poor taste she said characterizes the new Chinese bourgeoisie. She said this class is obsessed with Western culture, often disregarding traditional Chinese art and lifestyles in favor of Western cultural phenomena, such as electric car remotes and eating with forks.
“They have the wrong cultural attitude," Zhou said. "They worship Western culture and look down on our own culture, so I think I have the responsibility to remind them of our culture."
Zhou lives in Boston and is completing her MU master's degree in fine arts from there. She has been painting since childhood, and she received a bachelor of arts degree in art education with a concentration on painting from Shanghai Normal University in 1999. Zhou said she looks forward to the opening of an exhibit of her new work at the Cambridge Public Library in Cambridge, Mass. She has presented other exhibits in Columbia, including “Glorious Life: Paintings by Ming Zhou,” a 2008 exhibit at Memorial Union’s craft studio last year.
Elaine Johnson, director of Orr Street Studios, said Zhou’s work was selected after a call to artists was put out by the studio in December 2008. Submissions were collected, and four anonymous jurors from Columbia’s arts community chose Zhou as the new artist for the studio’s main gallery. Although Johnson wasn’t part of the selection process, she said she has a great appreciation for Zhou’s artwork.
“Each show is so unique. (This show) is definitely more vibrant than our last show, which was much more subdued," Johnson said. "It’s so vibrant and yet so cutting at the same time. I thought it was witty and beautiful.”
On March 31, Zhou appeared at Orr Street Studio’s interactive art series “Seeing Visions,” where she presented several paintings including “Good Taste,” “My New Car” and “Eating with a Fork,” before answering the audience's questions. During the discussion, she explained the reasons for her critique of the Chinese bourgeoisie, acknowledging that she is a member of the class she critiques.
“I care about this kind of person. I am from this group, the middle-class," Zhou said. "If I realize the weakness of this group, I think I have the responsibility to remind them of this."