The Ethnographic Eye, Phase I
― Art during the Sino-Japanese War ―
Institute of East Asian Art History, Heidelberg University
Arts College of Sichuan University
Central Academy of Fine Arts Beijing
with support provided by the Getty Foundation as part of its
Connecting Art Histories initiative
"The Ethnographic Eye" is a graduate-student centred program designed to encourage critical thinking through object-based art history in a range of environments: the museum, archives, fieldwork, and oral history collection.
The outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, and the establishment of Manchukuo in 1931, radically changed the course of China’s artistic development. The devastations brought about by the war shifted cultural concerns towards a polymorphic nativism. The mobilisation and dislocation triggered by the war also entailed that previously little-accessed regions and the rich cultural environments of their local inhabitants were now explored by artists trained in European artistic idioms. The encounter with ethnic minority groups encouraged artists to challenge and reformulate previous notions of “nation” and “cultural identity.” These complex inquiries, which were nourished by ethnographic studies, also helped expand the notion of “Chinese modernity” and the visual languages to ‘realize’ it.
The project “The Ethnographic Eye” is jointly conducted by the Institute for East Asian Art History of Heidelberg University, the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, and the Arts College of Sichuan University, Chengdu. As the first international project that shifts attention to this crucial phase in art, it aims to encourage graduate students from China and Germany to conduct research with previously little-examined material produced during the wartime period.