A Beekeeper

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Mr. Lu, born in 1952, is from Weishi, Kaifeng.  Nine years ago, another beekeeper from the same town as him told him that he should go to Ningbo as soon as possible because of a better living for a beekeeper.  Mr. Lu traveled to Jiangshan with his beehives.  He found a small piece of land along the road facing the sun, built a shack, and housed a dozen of beehives. He has been staying in the shack for four years.  There is no electricity nor water to the shack.  It is hot in the summer and cold in winter.  Once it turns dark, he goes to sleep.  His three meals every day are all pancakes, and for dinner he would reward himself with a little wine.  He has been a beekeeper since young, and he is illiterate.  His father and grandfather are both beekeepers.  Mr. Lu, whose wife passed away long time ago, has a son and a daughter.  His son also makes a living as a beekeeper, traveling across the nation with his beehives.

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The Snake Catcher

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Mr. He is almost 70 years old. He is from Zhubu Village, Ninghai, and his skill to catch snakes is inherited from past generations. Besides planting, he often goes into mountains to catch snakes at night. Zhubu village is located in the remote mountain area, and many villagers have the skill to catch snakes because it is a great part time job for them. However, selling the snakes is not easy. Mr. He has had the snake for half a month for now, but he is still unable to make a good amount of money. His nephew lives with him and his wife. When the nephew was 7 years old, his mother got cancer, while his father got cerebral hemorrhage. The responsibility of caring for him comes to this old couple.

Oyster farming

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Feijia Pier in Chunhuzhen, Fenghua is famous for oyster farming. The newest method is the use of obsolete tiers, which float in the sea for oysters to live. Some of the sea area is far from the beach, making it hard for farmers to get back before rising tide. Therefore, they often have to spend a night on the sea. The space on their boats are so limited that they could only bring a blanket.

A Huge Grave

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 9.44.54 PMDong Guochang was born in 1934 in Fenghua. At the age of sixty, he builded a huge grave for himself in addition to two pavilions for future generations to rest when they visit him. The township head discouraged him from taking so much land for his grave that even the mother of Chiang Kai-shek did not own such a huge one. Dong, with rulers in his hand, went three times to compare two graves. Finally, he agreed to dissemble the two pavilions. Now, he becomes a famous painter in the village.

A Mule and its Owner

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Wang Cunguo was born in 1952 in Shiqiaotou, Fenghua. His mule has been with him for ten years. He keeps it at the foot of the hill behind his house every day. Every time when it hears Wang’s motorcycle heading home, it shouts happily and goes around in circles. Wang often goes behind his house to play with it, which would laugh and act like a child. Over the course of ten years, Wang and his mule have been carrying masonry and cement within mountainous areas in Fenghua, Shaoxin, Yuyao, and Xinchang. Usually after ten years with mules, owners would sell them. Wang’s mule is turning that age soon, and his wife always wants him to sell it as soon as possible. Now, his mule costs 5,000 yuan, but if he procrastinates, the money would keep dropping. Wang knows that once his mule is sold, it would be killed for food. He is not ready. His mule is a member of his family now.

More than Nostalgia: Our Exhibition in Lake Forest

Location: The Gallery

Address: 202 E Wisconsin Ave, Lake Forest, IL 60045

Check it out if you can!

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In the museum of Van Gogh in Netherland, I encountered this palette of him with remains of pigments. At that point, I felt I was so close to the artist yet distant. I felt the sense of intimacy meticulously tracing each crack on the pigments even more than the time when I was complimenting his oil paintings on the wall. However, I was also frustrated by the glass between the palette and me. It was the first time the concept of distance came to me.

A couple years later, I became a curator myself for my dad’s photos of people in the Siming Mountain, the mother mountain that cultivates rural culture in Ningbo. The concept of intimacy is always with me.

I named my first two exhibitions “Nostalgia” because they are exhibitions that trace roots for the urban Ningbo people. For the two exhibitions, I not only displayed photos but also their stories below each. I wanted to establish the feeling of intimacy to the photos with the stories. I reflected on the role of photography. Nowadays, people look at photos on social media for no more than five seconds before they scroll down. During my first exhibition, the approach for me was to use stories to bring people closer to pictures. During my second exhibition, I invited a 96-year-old mother and her 76-year-old son to the opening ceremony so that the audience could interact with them.

After two in Ningbo, I decided to reach global audience. I went to the local art gallery and persuaded them to provide a place for these pictures and their stories. Besides thinking about what I can do with all those photos and stories, I thought about what it means for the old residing in the Siming Mountain for their entire life. They have never been outside of the mountain before, and the exhibitions would not even matter to them. I came up with the idea of not only shortening the distance between art and audience but also the subject of art and the audience. I have made my photos for sale, and I am going to bring the money back to them. I have also encouraged the visitors to leave messages to them so that they know there are also a group of people knowing and caring about them from the other side of the earth. They depend their entire life on labor of themselves and they probably do not realize they need help from others. On our notebook for message, I already received some warming messages praising this caring sense and reflect on the rural life between China and U.S.  I do want to break the geographical isolation and connect to them and the history they have witnessed. For those foreign visitors, I have printed out posters, and I hope they will keep this glimpse of lives in rural Ningbo with them. I, therefore, named this exhibition “More than Nostalgia.”

A Blind Lady

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Ms. Ge was born in 1949 in Huangshakeng, Fenghua. She was sick and lost her vision at the age of five. One incredible fact about her is that she is better at housework than any other women in the village. Her home is always organized in a clean way. She is able to catch chickens and ducks walking in her yard based on her intuition and even to thread a needle for her aging neighbors. She walks without a walking stick. Resting between housework, she would step out of her home, walk along the trail near the stream, confidently arrive at the central square of the village, and chat with others in order to hear about important issues in the village. After the conversation, she would return home in the exact same route. She is gentle, nice, and optimistic, smiling all the time. No one refers to her as “the blind one” in a condescending tone. Many people even believe that her vision is actually better than the majority in the village. Her 48-year-old son lives in Xikou, who had a grandchild last year. In other words, this 68-year-old lady has already been a great grandmother.

Almost Dead

Historical background: Socialist Construction

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Li was born in 1937 in Tongjiao, Yinzhou. On the evening of 4/4/1970, he, as a member of the Communist Party, was helping build the house of the last family near the Jiaokou reservoir. The house suddenly collapsed, and he was buried alive. When the villagers saved him from the ruin. He became paralyzed because his waist was struck by a beam. A tractor carried him to Ningbo, and the hospital saved his life. He was even able to walk after the surgery. However, twenty years after the surgery, his right foot started to fester. Till now, his right heel is almost gone, and the entire foot has lost senses. He thought it was about that accident twenty years ago, but his doctor said his disease was osteomyelitis, which had nothing to the accident. Without walking stick, he is unable to move.

The Lonely Baolaixiang

Historical background:  The reversal of social classes- the end of “private ownership

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Hong Shengheng, born in 1927, is from Xiashao, Beilun. Orphaned at an early age, he, at the age of 10, came to Xiashao from Lianjiang, Fujian on a boat that transported sugarcanes. He came for his uncle who worked at the Baolaixiang candy shop. After he was adopted by his uncle, he also inherited the candy shop. Baolaixiang, being a famous dessert shop, makes candies in autumns and winters  and bakes in spring and summer. After the establishment of PRC, all the private retailers came onto the communist way. Hong and his wife thus turned from shop owner to staffs working in the collective shop. In 1980, Baolaixiang stopped runing, and the shop becomes the house that the couple lives in.

An Ancestral Shrine Watcher

Historical background: The lowest peasant class in the old ages

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Xu Shiyue, born in 1931, is from Xiashao, Beilun. He does not know where his ancestors come from; the only thing he knows is that the Xu family has been watching the ancestor shrine of the Shao family for five generations. They belonged to the lowest social class in the society, depending entirely on the family shrine of the Shaos.

Since the Ming Dynasty, they were banned from going to school, being government officials, or marrying other social classes. They were only allowed to held degrading jobs, like taking care of ancestral shrines or being barbers and butchers. Such discrimination was eliminated by Yongzheng Emperor and gradually faded since the Republic of China period.