Fotofest opening

Houston’s photography festival hangs 3,000 photos in 129 locations

From hushed museums to stylish -department-store windows, crowded coffee shops to sophisticated corporate offices, FotoFest is taking over walls all over Houston. “FotoFest is presenting 11 exhibitions by 34 artists citywide. That’s 1,000 photographs,” Vinod Hopson, press coordinator for the festival, tells us.

This year’s theme is China. All 34 artists are from the Maoist state. “The exhibitions hit chronological milestones,” says Hopson. There’s work from the 1930s, right at the dawn of modern China, such as the large-scale ethnographic images of far western China and Tibet by Zhuang Xueben (on display at One Allen Center). There’s work that was made during the Japanese War, including “The Northern Front, The Anti-Japanese War, 1937–1946” by Sha Fei, part propaganda/part journalism images created to rebuff the Japanese on a cultural level (One Allen Center). Also on display is work made during the Cultural Revolution; “The Cultural Revolution, 1965–1975” by Weng Naiqiang, Ziao Zhuang and Wang Shilong, features images which sought to communicate the official face of China during a time of great change (Three Allen Center). And viewers will see recent conceptual and contemporary work, including the multimedia art of Bai Yiluo (Williams Tower Gallery) and Cang Xin (New World Museum), which explores public spaces and private lives. Many of these pieces have never been seen outside China.

Asked why China was selected as this year’s focus, Hopson says, “The short answer is, why not China now? China has too long been ignored artistically, and we can’t do that anymore. It’s a nation on the rise.

“While we’re in the midst of economic troubles, they have a booming economy. It has an incredible and growing art community, and it’s definitely on the radar of arts organizations around the world. I hope this show breaks down stereotypes of what China is today. Everyone has an image of what China is — everything from the Red Scare, Cold War images to cheap plastics and electronics. It’s a giant nation. They are the world’s other superpower, with a growing economy that is outpacing us.”

In addition to the 11 official FotoFest exhibits, dozens more photography-related events (although not necessarily Chinese) are scattered throughout Houston. “We’ve got another 135 exhibitions at 118 participating spaces. That’s got to be at least another 2,000 photographs. Geographically, we go from The Woodlands to Galveston, and from Baytown to Fredericksburg.”

While some of the exhibits are already up, today’s reception officially starts the FotoFest party. “It’s the kickoff to the entire festival and the party’s huge. The building is going to be full of art and full of people. There’s music outside and VIP guests everywhere. 42 Below Vodka and Barefoot Wine will be flowing freely. We want everyone to come.” 8 p.m. FotoFest headquarters, 1113 Vine Street. For information and a full schedule of related exhibits, call 713-223-5522 or visit www.fotofest.org. Free.
March 7-April 20, 2008

 
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