On June 17, 2021, the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT), a local Shanghai museum, advertised an art project on Weibo. Titled “Campus Flower” in Chinese and “Uglier and Uglier” in English, the exhibit is a collection of images of nearly 5,000 women.
The project was shot by artist Song Ta on his college campus in 2013. He compiled recordings of the women from “prettiest” to “ugliest” into an eight-hour-long video.
It became extremely controversial.
In the project introduction, Song laid out the intention, objective, and format of his project. Song demonstrated how he recorded the women and ranked them based on his view of their attractiveness.
The women were mostly unaware of the project and the fact that their faces have been exhibited all around the world since its completion.
The Publish Backlash
OCAT’s Weibo post unsurprisingly triggered a huge public backlash. Within a few hours, outraged netizens posted thousands of comments on the museum’s official WeChat and Weibo accounts.
They criticized the artwork for objectifying women and demanded that it be removed. “Campus Flower Song Ta” quickly became a trending topic on Weibo, generating over 6 million views.
Amidst intensifying public scrutiny, the museum announced that they would take down the art exhibition immediately. The museum also issued a statement apologizing for the “frustration, discomfort, or harm this may have caused to visitors.”
For many people, the museum’s apology came too late. Nobody in the museum’s administration hesitated to display this work at the beginning. This fact shows the severity of the issue.
One of my friends said, “It’s a humiliation to contemporary Chinese art, a vivid manifestation of misogyny in modern China.” Her comment is echoed by millions online.
“Campus Flower” Has a History
In fact, this is not the first time “Campus Flower” caused a public uproar. Back in 2013, the project was exhibited in the Beijing-based UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.
There, it was also slammed by domestic and international critics.
Chinese art critic Tang Zehui referred to the project in her review of the UCCA exhibit. The review was published on The New York Times’ Chinese-language website.
Tang chastised Song’s work for “objectifying an,d exploiting women” without their consent.
In 2019, the Chinese version of Vice magazine interviewed Song, though he no longer worked in the art industry. In his interview, Song defended his project by saying that “objectification is unavoidable and will never cease.”
“I objectify [those women] in an honest way, that’s a type of respect [to them],” Song said.
He even further rated the reporter of the Vice article as “277” out of 5,000. The reporter responded to Song’s remark with a neutral tone.
She argued that since objectification is unavoidable, diversity and inclusivity should come with more diverse criteria for judging people.
Many industry insiders refuse to endorse Song’s project. An editor in an art business magazine shared her insights on the Chinese media platform NetEase.
According to her, Song’s action is an abuse of an unequal power structure. Under this disparity, women are expelled of rights to defend themselves.
In addition, Song’s project might already constitute a criminal act. He may have violated the portrait, privacy, and reputation rights of the women.
“The fact that Song still won’t compromise or apologize exemplifies man’s privilege still rooted in the society,” the editor said.
Contemporary art is often controversial, but that is not a justification for Song’s project. In 2021, at least most people are no longer ignorant of the issues exposed by Song’s project.
This follows on the heels of conversations about Yang Tianzhen and Bilibili. In all of these incidents, people are speaking out. It’s a good start.
What are your thoughts on Song Ta’s project and the latest incident? Tell us in the comment section below.