McNally School
of Fine Arts

Li Chi Kwan

Li Chi Kwan

MA Asian Art Histories
2021 — 2022

Before joining the MA Asian Art Histories Programme at LASALLE, CK studied international relations and worked in the NGO sector. He found his passion in art history after visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing. What fascinated CK was the history and story behind the artworks. Since then, he has frequently visited museums and galleries when travelling. After years of working in different regions in Asia, he decided to quit his job to further his studies in Singapore. His research interest is in Chinese art, especially ceramic, installation and visual art related to ethnic minorities, geopolitics and the political economy.

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Thesis abstract

The other in self — The role of ethnic minorities in contemporary Chinese art after the Cultural Revolution

This thesis investigates the role of ethnic minorities—both as subject matter and artist—in the development of contemporary Chinese art after the Cultural Revolution, exploring the dichotomy between national and cultural identity. 'Chinese' is an identity with diversity. As a nation (minzu), 'Chinese' means zhonghua minzu, which is a national identity constructed with 56 ethnic groups, with the Han Chinese constituting a 90% majority. Ethnic minorities have their own culture, history and lifestyle, some even having their own language. They have always appeared as the subject matter in Chinese fine art to demonstrate unity during the Cultural Revolution. However, with modernisation and liberalisation in these last decades, their depiction in contemporary Chinese artworks has changed. They have been utilised as the subject matter for a breakthrough in art-making because of the difference in cultural identity. Ethnic minorities have thus indirectly become a catalyst of the revival of Chinese art. Moreover, through the processes of commodification, canonisation and conservation, ethnic minorities art is encouraged to enhance their cultural distinctiveness, which in turn provides diversification for Chinese art and artists.

As artists, ethnic minorities no longer only create folk art after the Cultural Revolution. The case studies of Gonkar Gyatso and Dedron in this thesis show a critical commentary on their identity, culture and art as opposed to the stereotypes understood through the society.

Since this thesis is not about characteristics of one particular ethnic-minority art, examples from Yunnan art, Inner Mongolian art and Tibetan art have been used throughout the thesis. These examples demonstrate that ethnic minorities are not minor or peripheral as one imagines. They have played an important role in Chinese art history.