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“O Zhang: The World is Yours/Ours” at the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery


Photographs of confident Chinese youth, subtly evoking powerful political and cultural statements, line the walls of Drexel’s Leonard Pearlstein Gallery this month. O Zhang: The World is Yours/Ours showcases two impressive photography series by the New York based artist, O Zhang.

Salute to the Patriot
O Zhang, “Salute to the Patriot”

The main focus of the exhibition is on The World is Yours (But Also Ours) (2008) series. O Zhang mixes familiar journalistic style images, Cultural Revolution-era poster layouts (image bordered with slogan in bold text), with graphic textual additions, mostly through the use of t-shirts. These shirts are decorated with phrases in “Chinglish,” which is Chinese poorly translated into English or a new form of modified English that can result in seemingly meaningless expressions. This combination of styles results in an effective statement, playing on the illusion of a simple snapshot, but packed with the power of a staged presentation.

Poverty Is Not Socialism
O Zhang, “Poverty Is Not Socialism”

In Poverty Is Not Socialism, a young Chinese girl is shown wearing an “Everything is Shit” t-shirt written in upbeat, colorful block lettering. The shirt’s large stars echo those in the heart on her “I Love China” tote bag, alluding to the flag of China. The title of this work is taken from a famous statement made by Deng Xiaoping in 1984, in support of his new policy of reform and “opening-up” of China.  O Zhang wrote that, “he didn’t know how right he would be, [and the] Chinese realize this now.”  Combined, the image and texts create a deceivingly playful call for political revision. The scale of the young girl, in respect to her backdrop, may represent the strength and importance of the country’s youth in making these changes possible.

China Add Gasoline
O Zhang, “China, Add Gasoline”

Many of these images also allude to the arrival of the Olympics in Beijing. In China, Add Gasoline, you see a young girl standing in front of the National History Museum at the edge of Tiananmen Square. Beside her is an Olympic countdown clock. The title, a common Chinese sporting phrase, is similar to “Let’s go!” or “Step on the gas!” However, paired with the green Beetle bag on her arm and towering cranes above, it acts as a reminder of China’s large gas consumption in an effort to develop its economy. During this time, China had a stronger sense of national pride, but was also acquiring a new level of tension, due to their hopes of impressing and re-introducing themselves to the world during the much-anticipated games. The museum represents China’s long history, while the youth points in the direction of the country’s economic future.

Daddy I no 18
O Zhang, “Daddy & I, no. 18”

Photographs from her past series, Daddy & I (2005-6), are also included in the exhibition. These images depict Chinese girls with their adoptive American fathers. O Zhang manages to capture the affection and unique dynamics of each of these relationships. Vibrant floral backdrops are used in most of these photographs, complimenting and contrasting with their patterned clothing. These works compliment the show in that they tie together the major theme of East meets West culture in a more direct and personal fashion. As in most of this show, the viewer is drawn in by the beautiful use of color and composition, only to realize the more complex motivations of the work.

O Zhang: The World is Yours/Ours
Leonard Pearlstein Gallery, Nesbitt Building (3215 Market St.)
– Exhibit runs till May 21, 2010
– Monday – Friday 11am – 5pm
– Open Late: Second Fridays of each month 11am – 8pm
– FREE and open to the public