50 Shades of Grey: The Emergence of ‘Smog Art’ in China

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Conveners: University of Oxford China Centre, SIAS

Speaker: Professor Thomas Johnson

This presentation will examine societal responses to air pollution in China through a discussion of 'smog art'. Smog art, which refers to artwork that engages with the issue of severe ambient air pollution, has become increasingly common in China. It includes various art forms such as paintings, photography, and performance art. This presentation is based on documentary data and approximately 20 interviews conducted with artists and curators in Beijing, chosen due to its poor air quality and high concentration of artists. It explores why artists produce smog art, how they navigate China’s authoritarian political environment, and the meanings they attach to their work—including the extent to which they view smog art as a form of resistance. 

Thomas Johnson is Lecturer in the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield. Before that, he was Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Policy at City University of Hong Kong. His work examines environmental activism in China, and has been published in journals such as The China Quarterly, Regulation & Governance, and Environmental Politics.