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Artist and film director Bo Wang’s practice delves deep into socio-cultural discourses, engaging nuanced subjects, such as how images, symbols, and spectacles function in a society; urban spaces and their transformations; the meaning of “community”; and discourses on postcolonialism. His essay films examine history and contemporary reality with acute theoretical awareness and humor, uncovering connections that weave together new narratives.
In collaboration with Pan Lu, researcher and writer whose interests coalesce around the topic of cultural and cross-cultural analysis of various textual forms, Bo Wang’s 28-minute essay film Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings (2017) investigates the intertwining histories of 19th-century colonialism. The underlying historical narratives in the film include John Reeves of the East
India Company searching for draughtsmen in Canton, the popularization of Chinese painting among European upper-class men, the British occupation of Hong Kong, and the 1894 plague outbreak. The work revolves around the western myth of the miasma, a toxic fume believed to envelop tropical regions like Hong Kong. The consequent vertical segregation of Hong Kong situated British colonists on higher elevations from which they cast their exoticizing gaze upon the “primitive” Orientals, who were believed to be more resistant to miasma. Exported paintings from China furthered the fetishization of the Orient, while later photos documenting the plague epidemic, attributed to Asians’ lack of hygiene, embodied a scientific gaze that discerned their
technological backwardness. Asians, as the object of the gaze, were defined by images circulated by the colonists, which ultimately helped construct a reality where everything falls into a single, Eurocentric synchronizing metric. The film offers a re-examination of such a worldview, once considered to be absolute and immortal.