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Yuanming Cao

M+S Cao i have no enemies

I have no enemies 
Chalk in concrete and iron frame
30 x 40 x 5 cm

I have no enemies is created using chalk, a material widely used by teachers and speakers in China, embedded in reinforced concrete. In rural Chinese village schools chalk can be the singular, surprisingly scarce, and therefore precious tool for literacy, education, and opportunity for the rural poor (as seen in Zhang Yimou’s award-winning 1999 film Not One Less). The chalk fragments form the Chinese characters for a well-known phrase by  a Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner that gives the work its title.


M+S Cao gatekeeper

Chinese Village Churches Series                     
Fuxu Village Church and Its Gatekeeper
50.8 x 76.2 x 2 cm
Caomiao Village Church and Its  Gatekeeper
50.8 x 61 x 2 cm
Wanan Village Church and Its Gatekeeper
Dawang Village Church and Its Evangelist
Dazhuang Village Church and Its Gatekeeper
50.8 x 50.8 x 2 cm each

Digital prints on metal  

Yuanming Cao’s series of photographic portraits of the gatekeepers of rural churches in his home province of Anhui present each subject with a marked dignity. Cao uses the device of the frame narrative by photographing each gatekeeper standing in front of the site of the church each cared for holding a photograph of that same church. In some examples the building is intact and clearly in use; in others the structure has been razed for development—a reminder of the price of constructing the “new” China. The color photograph held by each person stands in stark contrast with the black and white of the framing scene as if to question which is the main subject. Which is more alive and necessary? Like Laura Stevenson’s Beyond the Structure these photos ask what really constitutes the church—the people or the building?


M+S Cao sacred humility

Sacred Humility 
Old bible, notes, pencil, sand, transparent resin
28 x 25 x 8 cm 

Yuanming Cao’s Sacred Humility is a portrait of sorts, composed of a Bible, notebook, and pencil stub covered in sand and encased in resin that seals and preserves it. It conjures up a picture of the woman to whom they belonged. The handmade fabric book cover made of a small red-floral calico fabric with red cross on the front—red, the color of celebration and joy in China, the curled pages of the simple notebook that records the words to prayers and songs, and blunt-tipped pencil carry in them a humble devotion that requires no explanation. As Cao has explained, the sand represents the countless invisible poor whose “number is greater than the grains of sand.”


M+S Cao church interiors

Church Interiors


M+S Cao church benches

Church Benches

Chinese Village Churches Series
Digital prints on metal
76.2 x 101.6 x 2 cm each

From 2004 to 2009 I conducted a field study of Chinese rural church buildings in Suzhou region, Anhui Province. I visited more than 600 countryside churches, collected a large number of documents, and resources, and created a series of artworks (images, sculptures, installations, paintings, etc.).
—Yuanming Cao


About the Artist
Yuanming Cao (also Zaifei Cao) is an artist who works in painting, sculpture, installation, and digital imaging. Born in 1974 in Suzhou, Anhui Province, China, he graduated from the Department of Oil Painting of Nanjing Academy of Arts and the Department of Philosophy of Nanjing University. He was a visiting scholar at the Research Center for Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, and currently teaches at the School of Fine Arts of Shanghai University.

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