Born in 1970 in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China, Duan Jianyu studied painting at the Guangzhou Acadmey of Fine art where she currently teaches at the South China Normal University of the Arts. Jianyu’s work speaks of the tension between the urban and the rural in a rapidly industrialising China, as well as the coexistence of “high” world art histories and “low” global popular culture.
Jianyu’s work weaves its own obscure narratives, juxtaposing trivial everyday objects with motifs from the Eastern and Western canons of art. Her paintings wander the boundaries between abstraction and figuration, creating a narrative that follows the logic of painting itself. She tempers a sublime romantic yearning for the past and the pastoral with touches and irony and farce, through absurd situations and a painting style which avoid virtuoso gestures in favour of a homely warmth and modesty. In her own words, “I love secretly describing the details of life, apparently rationally and politely, calming them with fakes, falsities and untruths”.
While some of her works highlight the attraction of travel, Duan Jianyu’s paintings also tackle the flip side of this new freedom of movement, which is the sense of rootlessness that comes from mass migration. The theme of ‘home’ and family is introduced in the form of characters such as ‘sisters, mothers, and mother’s sisters and mother’s cousins’. Indeed, in Chinese there is no differentiation between the word for home as place or family.
Recent solo exhibitions of her work include ‘Automatic Writing – Automatic Understanding’ Pond Society, Shanghai; Duan Jianyu Art Basel, Switzerland; ‘Sharp Sharp Smart’, Mirrored Gardens, Guangzhou. Her work has been featured in group and curated shows including One Hand Clapping, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 2018;Asia Pacific Triennal of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbaine, Australia; Farewell to Post-colonialism – 3rd Guangzhou Triennal, Guangdong Musem of Art, Guangzhou; China Welcomes You .. Desires, Struggles, New Identities, Kunsthaus Graz, Austria.