Documentary Activism and “Art as Journalism” in a Chinese Urban Village | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online


This paper focuses on the community engaged endeavors of an art collective based in Xisan village, an urban village in the outskirt of Guangzhou, under a loosely organized socially engaged art project entitled “Xi-San Film Studio.” The project, founded by curator Zheng Hongbin in collaboration with his artist friends in early 2017, has focused on raising the publicness of contemporary art and expanding the space of civic participation for ordinary people through artistic activities. In particular, intersecting art, documentary making, and citizen journalism, the collective embeds their social criticism and activism through producing and disseminating short documentaries that center on the daily experiences of people (both native villagers and migrant residents, artists themselves included) living in urban peripheries. Situating Xi-San Film Studio and its activities within the context of Guangzhou’s urban development and market-driven social transformations, the paper discusses how these documentary makers seek to bring to light challenges, uncertainties, and social injustices residents have to negotiate with in the village. It illustrates that through focusing on personal lives of many residents and the village’s changing built environment, their films provide valuable documentations of how lives are lived by people in geographically, economically, and socially marginalized locations.


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