Art and Identity in the Forbidden City

Paradox in One Day in 2004 No. 6


  • Katie O'Connor Author



By representing and manipulating locations that hold widespread cultural significance, artists mediate the relationship between individuals and city spaces. The photographic work of Cui Xiuwen explores the complexity of identity formation in the Forbidden City, the political center of China. Studying the nuances of her piece One Day in 2004 No. 6 reveals the tension of the relationship between the body and the spaces it inhabits. Though Cui has emphasized the dominating presence of Tiananmen Gate looming over her youthful female figure, the image also supports the agency of this young girl. Rather than defining the piece as a representation of either subordination to the weight of cultural history or the assertion of individual identity, this paper recognizes the paradox inherent in the work. In my analysis of the photographic image, I embrace contradictory readings of its meaning to emphasize the importance of visual culture in how individuals define themselves in city spaces. The paper draws on the shifting cultural meaning of Tiananmen Gate and contextualizes Cui’s work with pieces by other contemporary Chinese artists, including Hu Ming and Lin Xin, engaging in similar themes. Analyzing specific elements of Cui’s piece, such as the Young Pioneer’s Uniform and the young girl’s cyborg hand, reveals the significance of gender when considering identity formation in the Forbidden City. This paper outlines the subtleties of Cui’s artwork to place it in conversation with academic and artistic representations of the Forbidden City, as the historical significance of this space continues to influence self-conception.

Additional Files





Fine Arts