Note: This Artist Feature is part of an ongoing series to document the female artists whose articles were added or improved on Wikipedia during the Art + Feminism edit-a-thon I organised in March 2016.
Movement/Style: Digital art, flash animation
Years: 1973 – still alive!
Well, who is she?
Bu Hua (卜桦) is a striking figure in the (relatively short) history of digital art. She has become well known for her digital artworks and specifically her flash animations. She was introduced to Flash in the early 2000s and published her first animation works on the now-defunct Chinese website flashempire.com in 2002. Since then she has kept creating digital art, exploring themes relating to life in contemporary China, such as growing urban development, the destruction of Chinese cultural heritage, and the uneasy meeting between China and the West.
One of her earliest works, Cat, was released in 2002. It went viral before YouTube even existed. It was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times and received several awards. Flash animation like this allowed Bu Hua to explore her passion for animation and filmmaking. In a 2004 interview with Li Xiao, Bu Hua states that, “Flash has its own advantages that nothing can replace. Some of the effects you couldn’t realise when making films.”
Since her start in Flash animation in the early 2000s, Bu Hua has created a rich and complex oeuvre of art. She now creates art in both digital and more traditional forms, but her animation work remains her most iconic.
Give me the gossip!
It’s quite interesting to examine Bu Hua’s life and personality through her art.
She has created a created a character that appears in her art based on her childhood self as a schoolgirl in Beijing. The character, dressed in a white shirt, blue skirt and red scarf, is a “Young Pioneer”. The Young Pioneers of China is a youth organisation run by the Communist Party of China that was started in 1949 – the same year as the People’s Republic of China. The iconic red scarf in the uniform is symbolic of the blood of dead Revolutionary heroes.
This character gives us an idea of Bu Hua’s childhood and of her reactions, as an adult, to her own country and culture. The artist has stated that the Young Pioneer is an “idealised version” of herself.
This alter ego can be found throughout her video and still image works, taking the form of a child confronting the complexities of the adult world. The figure evokes both Bu Hua’s nostalgia for the China of her childhood, and the emotional and social implications of a shifting Chinese society. By inserting the Young Pioneer into her works, she presents herself as narrator, character and observer in the worlds that she creates.
Give me a quick selection of her art!
Cat is one of Bua Hua’s most famous and well-liked early Flash animation works. Poignant and heartrending, it follows the story of a homeless cat mother and her son, showing how their love for each other helps them survive in the world. A more traditional storytelling format than many of her later works, Cat still uses themes and imagery that would become recurring in Bu Hua’s art: themes like death, anthropomorphism, perilous journeys undertaken by young children, and traditional Chinese art and culture.
Savage Growth, 2008
In Savage Growth, another video work, Bu Hua’s “Young Pioneer” alter ego explores a dystopian-looking, eerily surreal and fast-growing city. The imagery evokes a sharp critique of modern industrialisation and rapid urban development. The video is populated by strange creatures that symbolise various aspects of modern society – laughing, humanoid foxes; disembodied dress shirts that cause buildings to erupt; birds that act as military planes, killing the peaceful, flying hands. The animation style is inspired by woodblock prints, with the flat background and use of perspective, but also a graphic cartoon style, with clear black outlines and bright colours. Japanese anime and manga have served as big influences.
Playing a Happy Game No. 11, 2008
As part of her artistic practice, Bu Hua has made giclée prints (digital fine arts prints) of many of her Flash animation drawings. This allows her images to really be analysed and looked at, and to contain a great amount of colourful detail. Like much of her art, Playing a Happy Game No. 11 looks at clashes between Western and Chinese cultures, with references to American capitalism in the form of the KFC mascot. The wish to hold on to China’s cultural heritage is suggested by the background, depicting a traditional Chinese garden in an older Chinese art style, inhabited by dinosaurs.
Where can I look if I want more information?
- Check out a selection of Bu Hua’s work at White Rabbit Gallery, a Sydney-based Chinese contemporary art gallery that represents her. Also have a look at this White Rabbit Education Resource with a great section on Bu Hua.
- An interview with Bu Hua by Li Xiao at China.org.cn.
- An interview with Bu Hua as part of a series of interviews on female Chinese artists by Louise Guest at The Art Life.
Want more contemporary Chinese art? Check out my artist feature about Xiao Lu and the “first gunshots of Tiananmen”.