Renmin University female student holds personal body art exhibition, works as nude model to earn tuition
Su Zizi, female, Remin University of China sophomore Art major, body model. 1991, born in Yichang City of Hubei province, parents divorced since childhood, grew up under the care of her paternal grandparents.
An undergraduate at Remin University of China, an 500 yuan per session full nude model. Two identities that are poles apart have left post-90s generation Su Zizi (stage name) mired in a whirlpool of controversy. Some say she is able to support herself and is independent, and some say she her so-called art is just one step away from pornography. At the end of 2010, at the Renmin University of China Xu Beihong Art School, Su Zizi’s self-made “Who am I?” art exhibition opened quietly, displaying photographs of her own body. Quickly, school officials blocked some of the photos, many students were shocked by this kind of “audacity”, and even her mother believed that Su Zizi is “crazy”. This not-yet 20-years-old girl, what kind of experience/perspective does she have? How does she face the criticism and misunderstandings? Yesterday, this newspapers’ reporter had an exchange with Su Zizi.
A Ketamine using “bad girl” gets into a prestigious university
Beijing News: I hear you were very rebellious when you were young?
Su Zizi: My parents divorced rather early, so I’ve always lived with my paternal grandfather and grandmother. Back then, I wasn’t very sensible. I smoked, used ketamine, got into fights, was a rebellious bad girl. I would argue and throw fits, run away from home, only to be brought back home by police later.
Beijing News: How did you get into Remin University of China?
Su Zizi: My family suffered a misfortune, our home was demolished, and my grandmother entered the hospital. Without a home, and seeing my grandmother like that, I felt helpless and hopeless. I didn’t have a choice, so I went to the city government to complain. It was snowing heavily that day and I stood at the city government front door for over an hour without anyone acknowledging me. Later, I got down on my knees, and still no one paid any attention to me. Even the security looked at me with contempt, as if they wanted to say even if I complained it would be no use, so why come? Why did this happen, why did we suffer such mistreatment? After this incident, I vowed to change myself through education.
Became a body model to pay university tuition
Beijing News: How did you come up with the idea to become a body model?
Su Zizi: When I went to college, my family really had no money at all, so I could only depend on myself to earn my tuition and living expenses. At the time, I worked part time while attending school, often doing odd jobs, including sales, and being a print model. Once, I went to a hotel to accept an offer to become a model, and it was only after I had entered the door did I realize [they were] hiring for “hostesses”. They were playing word games. In the middle of 2009 December, I saw a photography studio looking for a body model, 500 yuan each day and 10 consecutive days of shooting. I called and had a very agreeable talk with the female boss and so made an appointment for a screen test.
Beijing News: Were you hesitant at the time?
Su Zizi: I had drawn/painted bodies in class before, but I still thought a lot a lot about becoming a body model myself. Afternoon the next day, I went back to the female student dormitory during a break between classes, called the female boss, and had an online video interview. At the time, I was also afraid of meeting a con-artist/fraud, so I kept asking the other side to shift the camera lens so I could confirm that she was legitimate. The female boss had me take off all my clothes and stand on a stool to show my physique.
Beijing News: Were you nervous?
Su Zizi: I was the only person in the dorm but I was still very nervous, feeling as if I were a criminal. I pulled off my bed sheet and hung it over the dorm window, then quickly took off my clothes, turned on the light, stood on the stool, and struck a few poses. The female boss was very satisfied and had me go to Shanghai for the shoot as soon as possible. Later I suddenly got nervous, thinking about the huge worldly pressures that I would probably face from that day on.
“You’ve already taken off your clothes, why are you still pretending to be pure?”
Beijing News: Did the shoot go smoothly?
Su Zizi: The female boss was very experienced, and had me cover my eyes during the photographing. At the time, I didn’t think things through, and after the shot, I saw several photographers laughing and felt uneasy. Later, one photographer invited me out to eat and told me that a lot of [obscene/perverted photos] were taken of me. I didn’t know to sign contracts at the time either, and this photographer said I was too naive, and reminded me that others could sell the photographs to porn websites.
Beijing News: Hearing this, you weren’t afraid?
Su Zizi: At first I didn’t believe it. 7 days later, a 50-year-old photographer came and wanted me to go to the bedroom to shoot alone. At first I wasn’t willing but the female boss asked me to do her a favor so I could only go along. This photographer was pretty decent/normal at first, taking his photographs, but suddenly he had me make some obscene poses. I wouldn’t agree and this photographer actually yelled at me saying: “You’ve already taken off your clothes, why are you still pretending to be pure?”
Beijing News: Do you sign contracts now as a body model?
Su Zizi: From that time on, I sign agreements every time where photographers cannot publish my body photographs without my permission or they risk legal prosecution. This way, I am even more at ease. As time went on, I understood this industry more and more. There are three kinds of human body photography, formal shoots organized by photographer associations, commercial shoots, and pornography shoots. A lot of photographers do body shoots, not only to satisfy “personal collection” needs, but to also sell them abroad to human body magazines or domestically to human body websites.
Beijing News: How do you view this circle?
Su Zizi: The characters of the models in this circle are a mixed bag, relatively messy. Amongst the photographers, there are true artistic photographers but there are also hooligans who pretend to be artists. Some photographers do not have any professionalism, selling the female model’s photos to porn websites. If the female model later becomes famous, these photographs will becomes sex photos and will hurt them a lot. Also, one time, a photographer invited me out to eat, and told me “I’ve seen your body, how about you be with me! I’ll financially support you!” However, I’ve still met a lot of photographers who are good.
Only after being accused of “being a hostess” did she reveal her identity
Beijing News: As a student of Remin University, are you afraid of your classmates’ criticizing you?
Su Zizi: As a model, I often don’t get back to the dorm until very late, so there have been classmates who suspect that I am working as a hostess. I didn’t want to reveal the truth, because there is a human body model industry rule that we don’t reveal what we do, to avoid it affecting our normal lives. I didn’t make it clear [to others] at first, so later rumors began to circulate, and after the head teacher heard, the head teacher criticized me. At the time, I felt wronged. When I told the teacher that I was a human body model, the teacher was very sympathetic, and also promised to help me keep my secret.
Beijing News: Why did you choose to reveal [what you do] later, even organizing an exhibition?
Su Zizi: An incident got on my nerves. One night while coming back [to the dorm], I ran into two male schoolmates and one of them asked me how much for a night. Although human body models are not well-regarded, it is still a legal profession. It was when others said I was working as a “hostess” that I figured it would be better to make clear I was a body model. Last year April, the school organized a fine arts exhibition, and I painted a copy of my nude photo as part of the exhibition. Later, many teachers and classmates all praised this piece of art, but there were still a lot of controversy. When I am walking around campus, there have been people behind me talking, saying this girl is really daring [shameless].
Beijing News: How do your parents feel about this?
Su Zizi: My mother was the first person I told. At first, she thought I had gone “crazy”, but seeing me persist, she also slowly began to understand. I never told my father, up until he went online and saw the news report on QQ and gave me a call, asking why I was doing this. After asking this question, he said nothing more. He knows what I have been through, so with me doing this, he wasn’t surprised.
I don’t use my real name, using “Su Zizi” is also to protect my relatives. My grandparents both live in the hospital, and I’m afraid of them finding out.
Beijing News: Did your application/submission with the school for the exhibition go smoothly?
Su Zizi: The school is still relatively enlightened/open-minded, all of my art had to be reviewed and approved, and there were 8 pieces that were not put on display. The teachers did it for my protection, not wanting the exhibition to cause me any harm. This kind of form is very special and I have always believed that the character/class of the viewers are very important. What I want to express is art, but the teachers were afraid that these would be misunderstood by the secular public, and that would hurt me. The teachers said they have never seen a student use this form of expression, and that I was probably the first one at Renmin University.
“There were websites who wanted me to sue them as a publicity stunt”
Beijing News: A lot of people have said your exhibition was a publicity stunt?
Su Zizi: The day the exhibition opened, there was no promotion at all, no outside promotion. Immediately, my exhibition was filmed by someone and posted onto the internet, attracting a lot of attention from netizens. Soon after, the news media reported on it. None of this was orchestrated by me, but at this point, it has already gotten. Videos of me have spread a lot on the internet. The teachers believe that letting the public know is good, but are also afraid if it is not handled correctly, it will cause me harm. Getting it out now has a very big impact on me. Just yesterday I was thinking about how I should go about dealing with this, and whether I will have a very miserable ending?
Beijing News: The exhibition indeed raised your profile?
Su Zizi: After the exhibition, there was an art gallery that contacted me, wanting to purchase my photographs for several thousand, even willing to sign me. If I think about it, I can get back my costs, but in the end, I didn’t agree to it because I believe my artwork isn’t good enough. There were also businesses who contacted me for publicity purposes, wanting to work with me, ready to put my photos on the internet and have me sue them, working with the media to gain publicity, using this method to increase their brand’s influence. Although the money they would give me was very high, I didn’t agree to it in the end. I don’t want to get too close to fame, and throw away the things I personally want to do.
Beijing News: What are your thoughts of your future?
Su Zizi: A lot of people around me are thinking about what they are going to do in the future, whether to go abroad or go to graduate school, how they should adapt to society. In the past I became a body model indeed out of necessity, I had no choice. But later, I gradually fell in love with the art of body art photography. I have already learned how to use body language to express inner beauty. In the future, I may be an outstanding human body photographer.
“Her family circumstances are indeed not very good. Apart from class, she is normally not on campus, in the past always doing odd jobs off campus.” — many of Su Zizi’s schoomates
“She often posts some of her own human body art photos on her blog, sometimes even sharing/discussing with her schoolmates.” — classmate
“Are you able to realize your dream? If you can’t, if you haven’t, then please shut your mouth. This is a girl pursuing her dreams. Those condemning her are all doing so with dark envy in their hearts.” — a netizen
“As long as the law and school regulations are not violated, the school encourages students to create/be creative. However, with regards to Su Zizi’s work (exhibition), this is not a common situation, so we cannot comment.” — Remin University of China spokesperson