Dangerous Gaze

Women Transgressing Painted Space in Medieval Chinese Visual Culture
Friday, 17 January 2020 - 2:30 pm
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Contact person: 
Sufeng Xu
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Free of charge
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Public Lecture by Professor Fan Lin, Leiden University, Netherlands

Dangerous Gaze: Women Transgressing Painted Space in Medieval Chinese Visual Culture

A painting surface can be thought of as a porous divide between the real and imagined worlds. In the early and medieval periods, famous painters were frequently praised for bringing painted subjects to life. However, in popular imagination from the Tang onwards, female figures who emerged from paintings were considered dangerous and subversive. This lecture examines stories in which female attendants and heavenly maids “walked out” of screens, wall paintings, and hanging scrolls and engaged in romantic relationships with their male viewers. I argue that these tales present a new type of visual practice, in which religious space is converted into a contested social space. These paintings were usually displayed in public spaces such as Buddhist and Daoist temples, and the static painted women were animated by the gaze of the male viewers but not the miraculous craftsmanship of the painters. Although such relationship would come to an end through ritual intervention, the uncanny way of looking by male viewers created a paradoxical subject-viewer dynamic. While the male viewers initiated a sense of imagined intimacy through intruding gaze, the activated female figures, in an uncontrollable manner, destabilized the social and gender boundaries. Drawing from tales about cross-boundary women in medieval biji notebooks, I aim to understand this new visual practice in both art historical and social contexts.