Made In China: Factory Girls

British Chinese artist Aowen Jin brings the dreams and ambitions of China’s factory girls to life by exhibiting their performance artworks, which were shot on their mobile phones.

Following her highly acclaimed 2010 exhibition about China’s One-Child Policy, Aowen Jin has spent the last two years meeting more than 800 factory girls in China’s biggest manufacturing cities, discovering the human stories behind the millions of workers who make the goods we use every day. Looking beyond the faceless lines of hunched figures that make up the media headlines, she brings to life a varied group of ambitious, dynamic and modern young people, whose personal aspirations are not too different from our own.

In a first of its kind, Aowen invited twenty factory girls between the ages of 16 to 30 to take part in the exhibition. These girls work in a variety of factories, making anything from iPhones to sofas for the Western market. Using art as a universal language, each girl was invited to communicate her ambitions and hopes to the audience through performance art. The performances were captured as photos and videos on each girl’s mobile phone, and the mobiles were shipped from China and installed for the exhibition.

The viewers are required to navigate through each phone in order to view the performance, creating a personal and intimate encounter with each factory girl. By doing so, the exhibition attempts to enrich our understanding and reshape our perception of factory girls in China.

A documentary titled “Beyond Mobiles and Uniforms” follows the making of the artworks and will be shown alongside the exhibition. It includes rare interviews with factory girls, and commentaries from influential academic and cultural experts on China, including from Xinran (radio host and author of Good Women of China), and Martin Jacques (author of When China Rules the World).

Performance art first appeared in China in the mid-1980s, when young artists, encouraged by political change, began to experiment with new possibilities in art. These radical avant-garde practices challenged official directives about the function of art and were little understood by the general public, with some extreme performances banned by the authorities.

In recent years, performance art has become increasingly integrated into mainstream art practice, but despite its growing legitimacy, it remains one of the most challenging forms of artistic expression in China today.

By using performance art, the exhibition positions factory girls at the forefront of the art movement in China. The artist, Aowen Jin, explains: “Art is not just for the Chinese upper and middle class to chat about over Dom Perignon, but can also be a way for factory girls to break the rules of society and challenge their social status in the cities.”

Performance art is a direct, fast and powerful way to communicate. It gave artist Aowen Jin the opportunity to work with each woman on a personal level, and to experiment with a variety of concepts and ideas.  It’s a versatile art form that encouraged and inspired the factory girls to play an active role in the creation of the exhibition.

Statistics about China’s Migrant Worker

Number of migrant workers: 250 million

Women make up 90% of the workforce in China’s coastline manufacturing cities. Men work in heavy industry and construction.

Factory workers in China produce one in every four man-made objects on the planet.

2013 marked the first time in Chinese history that there are more people living in cities than in the countryside.

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