Lili Almog’s “The Other Half of the Sky”, on view at Andrea Meislin Gallery, “showcases images of women in the countryside, small cities, and villages of China, with an emphasis on the extraordinary situation of Muslim women and matriarchical societies in China”, according to the press release. “The title […] was inspired by a quote from Mao Zedong. Mao remarked, ‘women hold up half the sky,’ essentially proclaiming an end to the centuries of inequality faced by women in China. As Almog’s portraits indicate, however, women in these outer geographic and economic reaches of China have not always experienced a quality of life equal to their male counterparts.” (my emphasis)
I emphasized the last sentence in what I quoted from the press release for a reason. It’s not hard to believe that what it describes is true. In fact, you don’t have to travel all the way to China to find women whose quality of life is not equal to that of their male counterparts. But that’s not the point. My point is that when viewing the show it looked to me as if the artist had traveled to China knowing the conclusion of the project beforehand (and that might be the main pitfall of such a project).
Of course, I have no way of knowing whether this is true (it might not be). But most - if not all - of the (photographic) portraits in the show left me cold: It was almost as if they only served as illustrations of something (just as, say, a photo along some article in a magazine usually is also just an illustration to catch the reader’s eye). I missed seeing the connection between the photographer and the subject(s) that can make portraiture so exciting.
There are some video pieces in the show, which I thought were quite interesting. Unfortunately, I was only be able to see them in passing, since when I came to visit the show, they were mopping the floor; and the mopping of the floor was deemed more important than having visitors look at the exhibition. It looked like Almog had done some video portraits, something which I have always wanted to see. If I can make it before the show closes (June 13th) I think I’ll go back to get a closer look at these.
All in all, as I noted already, my overall impression of the show was that the photographer had gone to China with a very fixed idea, and the portraits mirrored that.