A Seminar on Contemporary Chinese Art and Society


June 15–July 1, 2018

Seminar Location

Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing, China

Seminar Leaders

Artistic Director
Rachel Smith
Taylor University

Administrative Director
Joel Carpenter
Calvin College

The Nagel Institute, in partnership with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the Lilly Network of Church–Related Colleges and Universities, will conduct a seminar and studio project in China, followed by an international traveling exhibition of the resulting works of art. This is the third in a series of international art projects, preceded by a seminar in Indonesia in 2008 that resulted in the “Charis” traveling exhibit, and a seminar in South Africa in 2013 followed by a traveling exhibit, “Between the Shadow and the Light.”

One of the liveliest arenas for cultural change in China has been in the arts. In the late 1970s there was no Chinese art scene to speak of. As late as 1990 there were no private art galleries in Beijing. By 2008, however, there were 300 galleries in the capital, and museums and art academies were running trendy biennial exhibitions.

A network of avant-garde artists emerged, energized by new social spaces opening in China between the state and the market. Artists seized opportunities in the 1980s to critique Maoist “socialist realism” in the arts, but since the 1990s they have focused more on the wrenching effects of rapid social change and cultural globalization. The resulting vision is often dystopian, as contemporary artists testify to the social, economic and spiritual dislocations of China today.

The conventional wisdom about spirituality in China is that the Chinese are not generally interested in religion. Yet a national religion survey showed that more than 30 percent of Chinese adults claim religious commitments. The growth of Christianity is especially dramatic. Purdue sociologist Yang Fenggang and his co-researchers in China have documented an annual Christian growth rate of about 10 percent.

Christianity now is growing rapidly among urban intellectuals, for whom it offers a constructive response to the conditions that animate much of Chinese contemporary art. Prof. Rachel Smith of Taylor University, the artistic director of this project, finds Christian artists working throughout China. Some teach, others run galleries, and they have formed regional networks. Some are quite distinguished, and they play important roles within a rising Chinese Christian intelligentsia.

So how are Christianity and art interacting in China today, and what do they have to say to each other? How might Chinese Christian artists consolidate their efforts and deepen their vision for Christian cultural engagement? In addition, what might North American and Chinese Christian artists learn together in a project to engage Christianity and the visual arts amidst what one Chinese critic calls “the barreling contradictions of the twenty-first century?” We aim to find out.

North American Artists