Wu/Shamanism in Contemporary Performance Art from Asia

Dr Yu-Chieh Li1

1University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Performance artists in Asia since the 1980s increasingly draw from folk cultures and Shamanism to create dialogues between their bodies and the environment. Although identified as key figures of local avant-garde movements, the body works of artists and its performance aesthetics in the Chinese speaking world such as Wang Molin, Hou Junming, and He Yunchang have not been adequately explored.  These artists developed their distinct performance aesthetics deviate from the Happenings or socially engaged art in the performance art canons. Elements in their works such as Shaman rituals, self-harm, and spiritual communication with the After-world bear local religious origins, which also challenges the boundary between art, politics, and ethics. In this paper, I attempt to re-read liveness, audience participation, and social engagement of their performances as an intersection of contemporary performance and local ideas of Wu/Shamanism, and hopefully this will create a dialogue with performance art in Anglophone writings.


Yu-Chieh Li is the Judith Neilson Postdoctoral Fellow in Contemporary Art at UNSW Art & Design. She is working on a book on post-socialism, collective practice, and audience participation in Post-Mao Chinese art. Li worked as an Andrew W. Mellon C-MAP Fellow at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and as an adjunct researcher at Tate Research Centre: Asia. Her current research concerns performativity, artistic networks, and diaspora of Sinosphere from the 1970s to the 1990s.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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