In 2007 Hu Ming created a 14-metre-long picture entitled Relic of the New 87 Immortals (Vª\µ_åÉ)- a contemporary variation on afamous scroll painting of the Northern Song Dynasty. In place of the legendary Taoist immortals, she put a long line of Chinese women,from the dignified ladies of the imperial court to two bikini-clad girls of the present day. In this extraordinary procession Hu Ming mappedthe changes that had overtaken Chinese women: from the passivity of the past, when women were regarded as little more than male possessions;to the social equality instituted by Mao Zedong. The final part of the sequence showed two girls jumping for joy at being able toindulge a femininity no longer constricted by bound feet or by the drab uniforms of the Mao era.
For this new exhibition Hu Ming has revisited the format of the ancient scroll painting, this time creating a gallery of heroines taken fromsome of the most famous paintings of the western world. The Mona Lisa is there, of course, as is Botticellifs Venus; the fianc?e of the Ghentmerchant, Giovanni Arnolfini, as painted by Van Eyck; Lord Leightonfs Flaming June; and numerous other women borrowed from the worksasso, and others.
There is something a little crazy about this mus?e imaginaire of famous women: the virgins and the vamps, the wives and mothers, thebeauties and the grotesques, the princesses and the commoners. It suggests that China now provides an eager backdrop against which thecultural treasures of the west may be displayed. In place of the rigid codes of beauty followed by the old Chinese masters, the new Chinawelcomes every possible manifestation of feminine charm.
This massive work displays the cheerful excess that has become a hallmark of Hu Mingfs pictures ever since she left the Peoples LiberationArmy in 1990, migrating to New Zealand and then Australia. Settling into her new life in the antipodes, she could not forget the twenty longyears she spent in uniform, initially as a loyal servant of Chairman Mao, before becoming disillusioned and upset by the events of June 1989in Tiananmen Square.
Hu Ming delighted in painting girls in uniform, but these uniforms were of a type never contemplated by the Chinese army. Her soldier girlswore diaphanous blouses that revealed the firmest of breasts. They lounged around in scanty underwear, or revelled in their nudity like lionnessesstretched out in the sun. These impossibly sexy soldiers were joined by a buxom tribe of peasant girls, equally unselfconscious abouttheir bodies.
These glamorous figures represent Hu Mingfs ultimate revenge on the PLA for all those years spent in shapeless khaki, doing work so arduousand unpleasant that it seems almost inconceivable she was not permanently damaged by the experience.
Whatever horrors Hu Ming endured in the service of the Great Helmsman, they have not ruined her love of life, nor the deadpan sense ofhumour that is such a feature of her paintings. Her women are as brazen and assertive as the new China itself. She casts aside all taboos andcelebrates the female principle with a cosmic beauty pageant in which the participants are kidnapped from the art galleries of the world andset free by her own unruly fantasies.
John McDonald, an art Critic for the Sydney Morning Herald for almost 30 years. He has written for many Australian and international publications,worked as an editor and publisher; and lectured at colleges and galleries around Australia. John has written numerous monographson and has been curator for a wide range of exhibitions.