798: Protest Subculture and Creative Industry
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The Beijing 798 Art District in China has evolved from oppressed subculture to commercial entity. The argument has now been raised over the nature of the 798 artist community in today’s art world. The 798 originated as a subculture of avant-garde artists and now functions as a creative industry. The 798 is depicted by scholars as either a persecuted protest culture or a commodified and marketed Chinese identity. I gathered my research from sources on 798 evolution such as Jeroen de Kloet's article Social Semiotics, and Chinese scholars that study the 798's development in terms of China's communist past, most influentially Rey Chow. As a result of my research I discovered the identity of the 798 is a fusion of both commercial and protest. The current role of the 798 is complex, but is unraveled through comparison of past and present 798 works. From the evaluation of these works and their role, one thing becomes evident; that the 798 no longer functions as a subculture. The larger implications of this project lead to a questioning of the nature of a subculture, the definition of an artist community, and the role of the artist in oppressive cultures.