Photographic Alphabet: Q is for Mei Xian Qiu
Project: Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom
This series of photographs portraying a Chinese takeover of the United States, is a popular partial Western misquotation of Mao Zedong’s “Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom, Let a Hundred Schools of Thought Contend.” Taken from classical Chinese poetry, Mao used this slogan to proclaim a great society where arts, academia, and “a hundred schools of thought contend.” As a result, artists and academics came out of hiding and there was a brief flowering of culture.
In the photographs, hidden political dangers are suggested and must be addressed urgently, but are put aside momentarily, subsumed to the romance of “the beautiful idea.” The models for the imagery are Pan Asian American artists, and academics specializing in Chinese culture, the very group at risk in a Hundred Flowers Movement. The costumes are discarded U.S. military uniforms, cheongsams constructed for the photographs, and Chinese mock ups taken from a Beijing photography studio, specializing in getups for foreign tourists to re-enact Cultural Revolution Propaganda imagery.
Growing up in Java as a third generation Chinese Diasporic minority during a time when being Chinese was unlawful, Qiu reconstructed the unknown, fantastical notions of culture, self invented and -- by dissecting essential archetypes, revelatory and iconic. This type of flexible self view and easy piercings of notions of the impermeable interior self, are in keeping with the new contemporary landscape of commonplace transience and a growing global mono culture. After her family immigrated to the U.S. in response to genocide, Qiu visited China five times only to learn it was eagerly shedding its own past culture in order to embrace modernity.
The photographs uses familiar symbolism and historical dystopianism, but looks squarely to the future. Never forgetful of the past, this body of work engages the constitution of the future, affirmatively critical, specifically with respect to globalism, the identity of the self and self view, the social landscape, post-colonialism, and that of the larger national body politic.
You can find more of Mei's work here.