[Originally published in Vp issue 6 by Jessi Robertson]
Beijing artist and queer activist Shi Tou has a lot to say. On a visit from China to the U.S. this past summer, Velvetpark got a chance to sit down with the multimedia artist and chat about China, modern art, sexuality, and the quieter revolutions that are taking place.
Renowned as one of the most talented artists in the Beijing art scene, Shi Tou got her creative start at the Yuan-ming Garden, a collective community of working artists that dissolved at teh end of the 90s. Though she began in paint, her repertoire has since expanded to include photography and multimedia collage. At times her work as a gentle subtext of implied lesbianism, with regal poses painted in deep, dreamy colors. Other pieces are overtly critical of organized violence and destruction, and still others have an almost Dali-inspired surreal quality, with symbolic objects floating on the canvas. Her photography has been met with acclaim as well. A solemn, moody series of a nude woman with a shaved head reclining in a bathtub is particularly popular. The Silicon Valley Arts Council recently purchased her photograph depicting diverse Chinese women in colorful ball gowns with plans to put it on a billboard.
The end of the 1980s marked the beginning of a Chinese modern art renaissance that is still going strong. While there is no formal government funding for artists, many are able to find private foreign benefactors. There are small gallery scenes in the more urban areas, and a handful of private collectors keep a small commercial market alive. Still, a Chinese artist has reached a state of prominence once she has been scouted and exhibited internationally.
As accomplished as Shi Tou is as an artist, she has been part of the effort to advance China's queer movement. There is no specific Chinese law prohibiting homosexuality, but a "hooligan law" exists, which can be liberally interpreted and enforced by the police. Still, a growing queer movement continues to gather strength.
Shi Tou was the first out lesbian to appear on national television and discuss same-sex relationships. She also established a telephone hotline for people to discuss sexual minority issues, and served as editor of Tiankong, a queer newsletter in China. She is responsible for numerous queer meetings and conventions, including the first ever Chinese and Lesbian Gay Conference, the first Convention of Lesbians in Beijing and a Queer-themed film festival that was shut down by the police. Shi Tou will be participating in the planning of several queer-related events in Asia in the near future, including a convention in Taiwan and another film festival. She works closely with the Institute for Tongzhi Studies, an academic research and exchange program based in New York. Tongzhi's mission is to instigate the discussion of gender, sexuality and sexual health issues within Chinese communities around the globe. With the advent of technology and the internet as well as a more open policy to international markets, travel and influences, China is enjoying a period of strong artistic and sexual growth, with artists and activists like Shi Tou at the helm.
Velvetpark Magazine, Issue 10 (Winter/Spring 2006), 43.