Life, Art, and the Three Gorges Dam


In July 2012, the last of 32 generators went into operation at the Three Gorges Dam, located in Hubei Province, China. As the world’s largest hydroelectric project, the Three Gorges Dam—capable of generating 22,500 megawatts of energy, the equivalent of 15 nuclear reactors—has not been without consequence or controversy. At last count, the damming of the mighty Yangtze River displaced over 1.4 million people from approximately 1,500 now flooded or destroyed cities, towns, and villages. 

The dam’s devastating effects are captured by some of the artists at a new photo exhibition, Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography, at the San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA) through June 30. They did so not by photographing the dam itself, but instead by relying on personal stories and memories of the villages and streets they often roamed and the people they once knew.

Yang Yi grew up in Chongqing Province in the village of Kaixian, which was destroyed in 2009 by the dam project. In Uprooted #7, Old Town of Kaixian: Swimming Pool (2007), Yang digitally altered a photograph of his hometown and inserted an image of a solitary figure, most likely the artist himself, wearing a mask and snorkel beneath water. 

Since 2005, Muge has been going back to his birthplace, the city of Chongqing on the Yangtze River, in order to record the drastic changes that have taken place there. Two images from his series “Go Home” (2006) are represented in the exhibition. For Muge, home recalls “too many meanings. On one side is demolition, explosion, [and] collapse, mixed with noises and flying dust. On the other side are my childhood memories.” 

Such personal images serve as memoirs for both artists as they lament the loss of their hometowns and any connection to a past now underwater.

Read more about the exhibition here. Admission to the opening reception and performance for Rising Dragon on February 21, which ASNC is proud to co-sponsor, is free! Visit SJMA's website for more information. Asia Society members receive one free admission to view the exhibitions at SJMA and $2 off admission on subsequent visits through June 30, 2013.

Contributed by: Rory Padeken, Curatorial Assistant, San Jose Museum of Art