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Honor Roll: Cao Fei Wins 2021 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize

By David Schonauer   Wednesday September 15, 2021


Cao Fei has won the 2021 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize.

The Chinese artist takes the £30,000 (about $41,500) prize for her 2020 exhibition “Blueprints,” which was shown at London’s Serpentine Gallery between March and September 2020. The exhibition included her most recent film work, Nova, “which depicts a romance suspended in a liminal state between the real and the digital,” noted The Art Newspaper.

The Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize “recognizes artists and projects deemed to have made the most significant contribution to photography over the previous 12 months.” Three other artists were shortlisted for this year’s prize: Poulomi Basu, Alejandro Cartagena and Zineb Sedira.

As an artist, Can Fei focuses on the effects of rapid technological development on the human condition, noted the BBC. "Drawing upon extensive research and a wealth of cultural and visual references, [her] work offers a uniquely poetic dystopia that echoes the human condition today," said Anne-Marie Beckmann, director of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation.

Anna Dannemann, the curator of Deutsche Börse show at The Photographers Gallery in London, told The Art Newspaper that Cao Fei “uses photography to ask us what it means to exist in the digital sphere.”

“She explores how we can continue to have real, human relationships whilst being online, and she looks at how we progressively identify primality as a digital entity,” said Dannemann.

The Deutsche Börse prize will burnish an enviable résumé for Cao Fei, noted TAN. Besides her exhibition at the Serpentine exhibition, her work has been shown at New York’s MoMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, as well as the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Palais de Tokyo, and Centre Pompidou in Paris. She also received the Chinese Contemporary Art Award Best Young Artist Award in 2006 and Best Artist Award in 2016.

Born in 1978 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China, Cao Fei earned a BFA from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 2001, notes the Guggenheim. “As a young artist, Cao Fei immersed herself in the flows of global pop—Cantonese Pop, Japanese anime, and American hip-hop—and became fascinated by local youth subcultures,” adds the museum. “In the early photographic and video work 'COSplayers' (2004), she explored the alienation and escapism felt by disaffected and displaced youth who cast themselves as fantastical gaming characters.”


“During the 1980s, when I was growing up, Guangzhou was at the forefront of reform,” she told the British Journal of Photography in an interview published in July. “Hong Kong pop culture poured in, and that of other cultures outside Mainland China. I could watch MTV from Hong Kong – the singing and dancing fascinated me.”

“I don’t care about the art world’s attitude to my work,” she added. “I don’t pay attention to it. I use technology in my work because it interests me and not because of any art world trends.”

“She’s an extremely clever artist,” Dannemann tells The Art Newspaper. “She’s able to get away with being critical of China through her ability to create very seductive images. She manages to tread the line, in my opinion, between being political but also ensuring her work is able to be shown in China, in part because what she creates is so beautiful. I think she’s managed to circumvent the censors in that way.”

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