Fascinated by the cultural changes in contemporary China, Bertien van Manen travelled to China fourteen times between July, 1997, and May, 2000. In her characteristically subtle and sensitive manner, Bertien van Manen produced a personal reportage on China as she saw it: a world of contradictions, a mingling of urban and rural culture, against a communist background.
Her images subtly reveal how traditional Chinese life is influenced by Western culture. Because these changes are most visible among youth, Van Manen focused largely on them. Her work offers an unparalleled insight into domestic life in China. Without being voyeuristic, we get to know people in big cities like Shanghai or Beijing, but also in remote little villages: artists, multi-generation families, sometimes outcasts. The intimacy one feels with the people and situations portrayed is amazing.
Van Manen collected her photographic work from July 1997 through May 2000. She visited China 14 times and travelled the big cities in the East, West and South of China, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, but also villages in the countryside and in the mountains not far from Tibet. The result is an expansive body of work that was developed into both an exhibition and a book.
The East Wind West Wind exhibition has traveled through Europe over the course of several years, and also traveled overseas to Chicago on one occasion.
“…To penetrate the privacy of other people’s lives would take a great deal of tact anywhere. For a Dutch photographer to have found her way into the intimate corners of Chinese lives must have taken more than that. China, for all its hospitality, can be an intensely private place.
It is traditionally a country of walled cities, walled palaces, walled gardens, and walled family compounds. The family is still the basic unit that dominates most Chinese lives.
And Bertien van Manen has penetrated those units, to show us how Chinese live, eat, touch, talk, and sleep in private. To have done this she must have been not only tactful, put persistant, curious and symphathetic. You can tell from her photographs that she was trusted. Even if she never sees them again, you feel that her subjects are her friends.
Bertien van Manen’s pictures do not have an overtly political message. She is an artist, not an activist. But the political history of China is visible in almost every photograph…”