Photography Exhibit: Foothills
Aaron Reiss features his photography from his two-year fellowship in rural China in this exhibit, on display through July 31, 2013 at the Yale-China Association in New Haven. Exhibits are free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm.
442 Temple Street
New Haven, CT 06520
For teachers of grades K-12, Yale-China invites greater New Haven classes to visit the Bierwirth Room for a workshop on rural Chinese education.
Workshops vary depending on staff availability and exhibit theme.
This exhibit is part of the Yale-China Art Exhibit Series.
Foothills was made possible by a private donation.
Notes about the Exhibit by Aaron Reiss
Wan'an is a small farming village in Anhui Province, located on the banks of the Heng River in Southern China. Hundreds of years ago this village was the bustling transit center of Xiuning County. Boats would dock on the ample banks of the Heng to trade in lumber, bamboo, and other materials before heading on to Hangzhou and beyond. Its status as a major trading hub brought enormous prosperity to Wan'an, still visible in the grand, albeit atrophied, ancient mansions that line the old stone-paved main street. Wan'an enjoyed wealth and prominence for hundreds of years, until major road-building programs in the 1970s led to the construction of a large road through the other side of the village, and the dominant mode of trade slowly transitioned from boats to the automobile. New development soon drained activity from the old main street, funneling it to the new auto road and out of the village. Most young adults in Wan'an began to break away from their agrarian past. They moved to big cities to attend college, settle down, or become part of China's growing migrant labor force. The 4,000 or so people left in Wan'an today are largely the very old and the very young, along with some 3,000 teachers, students, and administrators that make up Xiuning High School (or Xiuzhong).
For two years, I taught at Xiuzhong where I lived most of my life within its gates with students and other teachers. From the window above my desk in my apartment on campus, I looked over the sprawling landscape of terraced fields and sloping foothills of agrarian land that surrounded the school and village. While planning lessons at my desk, I would watch neighbors outside my window plant rice, harvest sweet potatoes, dry rapeseed plant for cooking oil, and spread manure. I started taking weekly bike rides out into the farmland behind the school with my camera strapped to my chest so that I could take quick pictures from the side of the road. I started to talk with the people I would pass - climbing down from the roads into the rice paddies to ask directions or for help repairing a flat tire. As I talked, I learned that the people I met farming were the husbands of teachers, the mothers of students, or graduates themselves. Likewise, the tofu makers and the market stall owners in the village had children at Xiuzhong. They were struggling to ensure that their child's education would provide the opportunity to leave this life of rural labor. I came to understand that what seemed like separate worlds (the rigor and insularity of the high school, the onerous burdens of the subsistence farmers, and the sleepy and historic ancient village) were actually constituent interrelating parts of one functioning whole - a whole that at embodied this region's past and its hopes for the future.
Foothills is a window into this village in one of China's poorest provinces - Anhui Province. It is at once representative of the 50% of China's 1.3 billion population living in agrarian communities and also incredibly specific to these people in this place - following their lives as they connect and define each other. As such, Foothills focuses on the three disparate but deeply connected areas that define life here: The Village, The School, and The Farmland surrounding them both.
About the Artist
Aaron Reiss recently concluded a two-year appointment as a Yale-China Teaching Fellow in Xiuning, a county in Southern China, where he taught debate and led an oral history club. During his two years, he traveled extensively throughout Asia photographing cities. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Yale College ('10) in Environmental and Urban Studies, during which time he helped manage the Yale Farm and the New Haven Bike Collective. He also received a grant to map New Haven in a way to encourage undergraduates to explore and engage with the city. He currently lives in Brooklyn.