"Across The Waibaidu"
island6 Arts Center is proud to present Across the Waibaidu, a continuation of Liu Dao’s show Goddamned Shanghai, which features Shanghai’s Golden Ages. In this installment, however, the artists seek to explore the era from the alternative perspective of the Chinese, from the heady debauchery of the 1930s to the turmoil and terror of the 1940s and 1950s. What was all this glamour and fuzz to the Chinese citizens of Shanghai, this constant flirting with the devil and “living for the moment” attitude to those who dwelled in the old quarters? Did these two utterly different spheres of the metropolis mingle at all? The infamous Garden Bridge (waibaidu qiao 外白渡桥) which led over the Soochow Creek down to the glitzy Bund formed a literal and metaphorical separation of the Chinese and Western settlements.
As the parties glittered and champagne corks popped across the Waibaidu, the denizens on the other side of the bridge were seeking out their own brand of survival. The boom of the 1930s brought both possibility and paucity for the Chinese. Educated English-speakers set up promising careers as compradors, or go-betweens, for the Western companies and local suppliers and laborers. Savvy merchants grew rich and fat, heralding the rise of a new entrepreneurial class. The less fortunate Chinese formed the bulk of the toiling labor class by day and sought belonging and comradeship in guilds and gangs by night. And everyone – rich, modest, desperately destitute – filled the opium dens in droves, wittling away their hours in slack-lidded recline.
When the bloodthirsty upheavals came in the 1940s, Shanghai was especially hard-hit by furious Japanese bombardment on the many foreign factions that resided in the city. The locals now watched in horror as the lao wai that had lived in sumptuous elegance were frog-marched to concentration camps. And just four years after the smoke and dust lifted in 1945, the troops swept into the city and brought new ambiance in once elegant ballrooms and sumptuous villas.
Such a story needs to be told. The Liu Dao art collective has put together a show that starts jauntily on a dusky drive along the nightly rumble of Bubbling Well Road 沸井路, where the lovely local beauty of “Charleston Craze” taps her way between the frames as expertly as any Parisian Josephine Baker. The sight of glittering steel airplanes crossing the city as in “Thanks for the Memories” soon became daily occurrences. Old photographs unearthed by the art collective in antique-style frames capture snippets of local life in “Machismo Under Fire” and “Xiaofang’s New Toy”. And in unexpected corners, Mao-suited youths take aim under cloudy Shanghai skies as LED fairies mourn the leftovers of the once-grand Concession areas.
As we move further into the Dragon year, “Across the Waibaidu” is Liu Dao’s homage to the resilience and enterprise of the Dragon’s descendents, who carved out an enduring existence for themselves in this metropolis, growing and flourishing relentlessly amidst the coming and going of all foreigners.