Shooting the Tiger
Xiaoxiao Xu’s fascination with the Great Wall of China and the lives of the people who live alongside it began in 2014 with an introduction to the She Huo festival near Xi’an in Northwest China, the city that once marked the beginning of the Silk Road. With this ancient multi-day festival, the community welcomes spring each year. Xu grew up in Southeast China and was unfamiliar with this festival. She was immediately struck by the brightly painted faces, theatrical costumes and magical rituals that contrast so starkly with the harsh living conditions around the Great Wall of China. By focusing on traditional activities that are rapidly changing due to industrialisation and urbanisation, Xu highlights people’s connection to their place of origin. A selection of photos that Xu took of She Hou are collected in her photo book Shooting the Tiger
The Long Wall
From 771 BCE, the Chinese empire constructed the Great Wall of China with the aim of protecting itself from outside influence. In particular, the well-preserved part of the wall near Beijing has come to symbolise power and national unity. In practice, the wall had a different effect from the outset as soldiers, merchants and travellers crossed it, bringing different cultures, languages and customs into contact with each other.
Xu’s curiosity about life around the wall led her to return to China in 2017 to investigate what significance the mighty structure has today. The contrast between the wall’s mythology and its occasionally bitter reality was the starting point for her series Watering My Horse by a Spring at the Foot of the Long Wall. Xu’s work shows the colourful and sometimes difficult lives of those who live alongside the wall today while also exploring the wall’s spiritual meaning by inviting local residents to share ancient mythical stories about the structure with her. She has documented how nature has taken over the wall in many places and has explored the work of the ‘wall protectors’, government employees who dedicate their lives to maintaining the wall, cleaning up litter and preserving excavated artefacts in order to preserve tradition. Although the wall has existed for hundreds of years, Xu sees the structure as a living organism that criss-crosses the landscape and as an anchor point for the people who live around it.
In recent years, Xiaoxiao Xu’s projects have taken the form of photo books, including Watering My Horse by a Spring at the Foot of the Long Wall and Shooting the Tiger. In 2020, Xu experimented with a physical presentation of her work at the festival Breda Photo. With Life Along the Long Wall, Fotomuseum Den Haag is presenting Xu’s first solo museum exhibition.
Xiaoxiao Xu (b. 1984) emigrated from Southeast China to the Netherlands at the age of fourteen. She graduated with honours from the Fotoacademie in Amsterdam in 2009. She has exhibited in group shows at Noorderlicht Photo Festival (2013), Xiamen China (2020), Breda Photo (2020), Jimei X Arles (2020) and Museum Hilversum (2021). Xu has created five photo books, three of which have been published by The Eriskay Connection (Breda). She has received various prizes and awards, including the Lucie Photo Book Prize and Best Photography Book Award PhotoEspaña. Her photo book Aeronautics in the Backyard (2016) was selected as one of the best photo books by The Guardian and De Volkskrant, and recently her book Shooting the Tiger was nominated for Best Dutch Book Designs 2022.