Inspired by the Opera: Contemporary Chinese Photography and Video

February 13–June 15, 2014

Liu Zheng, An Old Peking Opera Actor Playing a Female Role, Beijing, 1995 (negative, this impression printed 2007), from the series My Countrymen (Guoren, alternately translated as The Chinese), Gelatin silver print. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Purchase, The Paul and Miriam Kirkley Fund for Acquisitions, 2013.25.

Since the mid 1990s, a number of Chinese artists have incorporated the visual vocabulary of Chinese opera into new art forms.

This concise exhibition reveals the continued relevance of opera, both within contemporary Chinese society and within the experimental work of individual artists.

It features: a series of black-and-white photographs of elderly actors by Liu Zheng that play with conventions of ethnographic and opera photography; two videos by Chen Qiulin that make use of traditional opera characters to respond to changes wrought by the Three Gorges Dam; The Forbidden City (Zijincheng) by Liu Wei, a lyrical video of theatrical “glove puppets” (budai kuilei) shown publicly for the first time; and videos by Cui Xiuwen that connect to opera in more oblique ways, through performative elements and symbolic props, gestures, and costumes.

Together, the works help illuminate the relationship between contemporary art and China’s cultural heritage.

Envisioning China

UChicago Arts presents a diverse selection of art, film, music, conversations and performances connected to the arts and cultural history of China during a five-month festival. 

From the magnificent art and spectacle of Chinese opera to rarely screened silent films and world premiere performances, the Envisioning China festival opens a window on the rich cultural heritage of China, past and present. 

Learn more at

Related exhibition

Explore the visual culture of Chinese opera during the Qing dynasty in the concurrent exhibition Performing Images