Angel No. 1 - Cui Xiuwen

Title: Angel No. 1
Artist: Cui Xiuwen
Date: 2006
Country of Origin: China
Cultural/Ethnic Affiliation:
Medium: C-Print
Dimensions: 150 x 120,4 cm
Accession Number:
Current Location and Manner of Display:

Introduction: This wiki entry discusses the photograph by Cui Xiuwen Angel No. 1. This work is one out of 14 photographs in Cui Xiuwen's
Angel Series.

Descriptive Analysis:
In the center of the frame is a teenage girl standing ankle deep in a lake. The large scale and center placement of the girl in the composition makes her singularly important. The water has small rippling waves, and is a deep blue. The sky is a brighter blue with darker blue clouds high in the sky and a group of whiter clouds just above the horizon line. There is also a full moon rising above the horizon. Along the horizon you can see green foliage and the silhouette of a mountain with a tall thin structure on top of it. The young women is turned so the viewer observes her in three quarter profile. The girl is looking down with a serene gaze and standing with her weight on one leg and the other relaxed and bent. She has a pregnant belly and one hand is resting on the belly and the other is dropped at her side. Her hair is black, straight with bangs and is blowing softly in the breeze. Her complexion is pale with unnatural pink cheeks. She is wearing a white sleeveless school uniform with black piping. The dress is billowing behind her in the breeze.

Formal and Contextual Analysis:

Cui Xiuwen's Angel Series comments on the experiences of being a single pregnant woman in contemporary China. The photographs showcase the emotional stress of young women in a society bound by traditional values and views on sex and pregnancy. This same society is also obsessed with male births and sustaining the One-Child policy, which in recent years the government has revised. Therefore pregnant women are pressured or forced to abort female fetuses. The birthrate of females has declined which has brought about a disproportionate ratio of men to women in China. Since women are scare, especially in the county side, sex trafficking, marriage sales, and prostitution have become rampant. These situations also contribute to womens' concerns throughout their reproductive lives about becoming pregnant. Through her Angel Series, Cui Xiuwen is able to illustrate the range and varitey of emotions associated with pregnancy in contemporary China. Cui Xiuwen is not a feminist, but hopes her artwork will encourage women to better themselves and become more independent.

The protagonist in the Angel Series is an everyday Chinese teenager with stereotypical features. Her jet black hair is cut bluntly in a square cut with bangs and her skin is so milky white it resembles a porcelain doll. The white dress she is wearing in each photographs is a modified school uniform which shows off her pregnant belly. The compositions of each photograph are meticulously staged. In each image, the girl is superimposed in front of famous Chinese tourist locations such as the Imperial Palace. In the other 14 photographs of the Angel Series there are a variety of moods that the pregnant girl is going thorough. Each photograph captures a different emotion associated with being pregnant in contemporary China. The images of her her not repeated, but she is inserted multiple times into each frame with different facial expressions and gestures. You can see the anxiety, submission abandoment, sandness, lonliness through her facial expresions. She is frozen in exaggerated theatrical poses that empasize the feelings that are depicted on her face through her twisted body, her tightly shut eyes or her groping hands. These background images are then stripped of extraneous details. Combined with the shallow pictorial space and the broad illumination of light, the photographs give the impression of being on a theatrical stage. The lack of details and stillness in the backgrounds gives even more emphasis to the subtle movements of the girl. In each image she is either alone in the composition or digitally reproduced and appearing with multiple images of herself.

In Angel No. 1 the girl standing in what appears to be West Lake in Hangzhou,one of China's famous scenic locations. Even though she is pregnant, she looks virginal and pure in her white flowing dress. The dress is so brightly white against the darker background that the viewer is immediately drawn to this girl and begins to analyze her situation. On closer inspection the romantically flowing white dress is actually a modified school uniform which provokes the viewer to question why and how a school girl is found at night, in the water and pregnant. The sky is atypical for a Chinese landscape due to it's unnatural blue color and is sets an ominous mood with the clouds and moon in the horizon. The organized horizontal bands of color in the background sets a serene and calm stage with no movement except for the breeze that is moving the water and the girls' hair and clothes. Adding to the mystery is the broad illumination so it is not clear what time of day it is. The young woman is somber and introspective, finding no joy in her pregnancy and realizing that this is going to be a life changing event. It is a mystery why this young girl is pregnant and why she is standing in water and what she might do next. .

The technique of Cui Xiuwen's Angels Series is similar to her other recent photography series. Cui Xiuwen uses a young Chinese girl for her model. The model in Angel No. 1 was 13 years old during the project. To prepare for photographing this other photo series the artist spends at least a month socializing with the girl and her mother to make them both comfortable. During this process he also can assess the model's personality and plan new ideas for the projects. Cui Xiuwen shoots with digital tools and inserts the images of the model into photographs that have been taken of pre-existing background locations. These photographs are manipulated on the computer and then printed large in scale. The entire process takes up to two years.

Personal Interpretations:
At first glance, Angel No 1, reminds me of a favorite painting by Maxfield Parrish The painting is titled , Ecstasy and while it has a completely opposite mood then Angel No 1., I immediately saw some visual similarities. However, it was their differences that encouraged me to find out more about Angel No 1. In Ecstasy there is also a female figure standing alone in a landscape in front of a very blue sky. However, in Ecstasy the young women is standing on the mountain with the lake below her. She is looking up as if the possiblies of her life are endless and positive. In Angel No 1., as just discussed above, the girl is looking down as if possibilities of her future are dismal and depressing. Women go through many different stages in their life and these two pieces of art, even though created over 75 years apart in different countries, are both able to strongly convey visually, emotions and stages that many women encounter during their lives.


Cui Xiuwen Exhibit Catalog 2010 - 2011 Galerie Dix9, Paris

Baque, Dominique, " Uses of the Uncanny" , Art Press no 376 84 - 6 Mr 2011

Cases of Forced Abortions surface in China

The Museum of Chinese Contemporary Art on the Web

ArtZine China
Chinese Contemporary Art Portal

high quality database and information source on international artists

Brooklyn Museum-Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art
online digital archive dedicated solely to feminist art

Art Slant China
contemporary art network.

Galerie Dix9
Paris Gallery with recent solo exhibit of Cui Xiuwen

Primo Marella Gallery
Italian Gallery with recent solo exhibit of Cui Xiuwen

e.zine dedicated to contemporary art
Interview with Cui Xiuwen

Cui Xiuwen's website

New York TimesChina’s Female Artists Quietly Emerge