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Migration and Movement

Artists move around the world, shifting and fusing their identities, cultural traditions, and artistic techniques.


Three Gorges Dam Migration

Yun-Fei Ji
(Chinese, born 1963)

2009. Woodcut scroll, composition (image): 13 3/8 x 120 11/16" (34 x 306.5 cm); sheet (full sheet): 17 5/16 x 337 3/16" (44 x 856.5 cm)

Started in 1994 and completed in the late 2000s, the Three Gorges Dam was built to curb flooding of China’s Yangtze River and provide hydroelectric power for a 10th of the country’s population. However, this massive public works project also brought with it controversy: Archaeological sites were destroyed, villages were inundated, and millions of residents were forced to relocate.

In this work, Ji depicts the Three Gorges Dam’s “floating weeds”—his name for displaced people, a term that he adapted from an ancient Chinese phrase. He borrows his style from classical Chinese landscape painting. Here, however, Ji subverts the typically serene images by inserting realistic renderings of hardship that resulted from the dam construction. Among bamboo shoots and rocks, children pull on their mothers’ shirts, a woman sleeps on the ground, and families sit surrounded by bags filled with their belongings. Ji also incorporates fantastical imagery within the busy scene, such as the monstrous beast on the right side of the print. On the far ends of the scroll, Ji wrote in Chinese calligraphy texts describing China’s longstanding wish to tame the river.

To transform his drawing into a hand-printed scroll, Ji worked with Rongbaozhai, a traditional printing and publishing studio in Beijing. Made of over 500 woodblocks, the printed image is 14 inches high and 10 feet long. When the scroll is fully unfurled, it stretches to 32 feet long, including the silk ends.

Benjamin Genocchio, “Exploring Utopian Dreams of Chinese History,” the New York Times, January 16, 2005

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

A work of art made with a pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements, often consisting of lines and marks (noun); the act of producing a picture with pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements (verb, gerund).

Decorative handwriting or lettering.

A term loosely applied to any printmaking technique involving a relief image cut into the surface of a wooden block. The wood is covered with ink and applied to a sheet of paper; only the uncut areas of the block will print, while the cut away areas do not receive ink and appear white on the printed image.

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

Past and Present
Ji’s artwork pairs traditional techniques with contemporary issues. “I use landscape painting to explore the utopian dreams of Chinese history,” he said, “from past collectivization to new consumerism.”1

The Cultural Revolution
“I grew up during the Cultural Revolution,” Ji explained, “a time of immense chaos and confusion throughout the country.1 Led by the Communist leader Mao Zedong and lasting from 1966 until 1976, this movement aimed to erase capitalist and traditional cultural elements from China.