Ancestors and photography in China: Wang Youshen’s Before and after grandmother passed away 王友身, 我奶奶去世前后

Jeanne Boden

In this paper I look at the relation between ancestor worship and photography in China in general and more specifically it focuses on a series of contemporary photographs dealing with death of family members in China: Wang Youshen’s (王友身) Before and after grandmother passed away (我奶奶去世前后 1989-1994). In recent times many scholars, including myself, have explored the post-colonial, post-traditional and post-socialist conditions of Chinese art and have elaborated on the limits of Western theory in the analysis of art and photography as art from China. In China the depiction of family members obviously takes place in a Chinese context and the pictures we look at should be appreciated as such. Since we deal with the issue of life and death not only photographs of living family members, but also the depiction of ancestors comes into scope. The fact that there has been a connection between ancestor portraiture and photography since earliest times motivates me to explore the photographs of Wang Youshen dealing with family, life and death in the context of ancestor worship. 


Photography © Wang Youshen