These photographs come from a body of work referred to as “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom,” exploring anxieties of power and globalism, post-colonialism, national and intercultural identity and the notion of non self-constructed and deconstructed individualism. The photographs present a sweet conceit of romance and violence. The subjects’ posture and expression remain sentimental, vulnerable and unformed—yet there are hidden dangers suggested.
The models for the imagery are Pan Asian Americans who could be perceived as Chinese, artists and academics specializing in Chinese studies. The costumes are discarded US military uniforms and Chinese mock-ups taken from a Beijing photography studio, specializing in “get ups” for foreign tourists to re-enact Cultural Revolution Propaganda imagery.
A Kafkaesque tongue-in-cheek frolic of the takeover of the United States of America, “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom” takes its cues and title directly and indirectly from classic Chinese poetry, the Cultural Revolution Maoist movement and Anselm Keifer’s series of paintings of the same name. It refers to the popular Western mistranslation of the Chinese poem “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, Let a Hundred Schools of Thought Contend.”
Echoing his earlier portrayals of himself in sieg Heil salute to come to terms with his country’s Nazi past, Kiefer’s “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom” showed Mao Zedong in the Chinese salute. My series asks to what extent an individual is part and parcel of and responsible for national or cultural actions?
Mao had used this very poem to encourage a variety of views in the “arts and sciences” and begin the Hundred Flowers Movement. He proclaimed that in a great society the arts, academia and “a hundred schools of thought contend.” As a result, artists and academics came out of hiding and there was a brief flowering of culture before they were hunted down and destroyed.
1996-2002 Studies Self Help Graphics, Los Angeles
1992-1996 Studies Ecole Albert Defois, Vihiers, France
1990 JD University of California, Davis
1987 BA University of California, Riverside
Mei Xian Qiu (aka Cindy Suriyani) is a Los Angeles-based artist. She was born in the small town of Pekalongan, in mid Java, Indonesia, to a third generation Chinese minority family. At birth, she was given various names in preparation for societal collapse and variant potential futures—a Chinese name (Qiu Xian Mei), an American name (Cinderella) and an Indonesian name (Suriyani)—given by her parents, as well as a Catholic name by the local priest (Maria Theresia).
In the aftermath of the Chinese and Communist genocide, the family immigrated to the United States. Qiu was moved back and forth several times between the two countries during her childhood due to her parents’ initial reaction to what they perceived as the amorality of life in the West countered with the uncertainty of life in Java. Partially as a result of a growing sense of restlessness, her father joined the US Air Force and the family lived all across the country, sometimes staying in one place for just a month at a time. Qiu has also been based in Europe, China and Indonesia as an adult.