In “Left, Right,” Chinese artist Cai Dongdong lines up photographs taken in the Republic of China between 1912 and 1949, and photographs taken in the People’s Republic of China between 1949 and 1978.
Drawing from his archive of 600’000 anonymous photographs from China, Dongdong pairs images (those taken before the founding of the People’s Republic of China on the right-hand side, those after the founding on the left-hand side) that show women of similar age, facial structure, body posture and situation. Originally taken in private spaces for private purposes, the photographs take on a different meaning and become part of a conversation between two different historical eras of a country. Without much intervention, Dongdong, a soldier-cum-artist whose work seeks to explore and expose ideological propaganda, constructs subtle narratives about themes such as the connections between the personal and the political, the pleasures of life, and the things that connect us humans across different ages and systems.
“I picked these portraits from an archive of approximately 600’000 photographs and divided them into two parts based on their costumes, makeup, and the textual records on the back of the photos.
Then I paired these portraits of similar age, facial structure, and posture to demonstrate the changes in women’s appearance and temperament as a result of the different social regimes and ideologies in China over these two periods.”
― from Cai Dongdong’s foreword (included in Chinese & English)
For more information about Cai Dongdong, we recommend this interview at Sixth Tone.