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China [sur]real

Mark Henley's book and exhibition 'China [sur]real' is drawn from 16 years of independent journeys through the country, and poses a challenge to the distorting mirrors through which the Middle Kingdom is usually regarded. Using humour as a means of engagement it examines the issues confronting contemporary China: from migration, social inequality and pollution, to the rise of the individual, consumerism and changes in sexual identity. Taking in Mao's hometown, and rural fertility cults, drunken beer festivals and the sales at IKEA, from encounters with tractor drivers and transvestite dancers, to tourists and toy factory workers, the photographs document the lives of ordinary people caught up in what are simply, quite extraordinary times. With often-vivid colour, and a certain irony tempered by humanism, the work invites reflection on our perception of the Chinese, and raises pertinent questions about the challenges, opportunities and risks faced by a society changing at such an astonishing speed, and with consequences that stretch far beyond the country's immediate borders.

After an initial showing in Geneva, 'China [sur]real' toured throughout Asia, including a ten city tour in the People's Republic itself, with the support of the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs and the Alliance Francaise. The book, published by Timezone8, was released in the UK and USA in July 2007 having already broken down barriers by being granted distribution in China itself.
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