Feng Cangyu's studio
As “outsider art” gains attention in international exhibitions, artists and art-lovers without formal training from China see new opportunities for self-expression

Feng Cangyu wanted to become an insider. In 2007, the self-taught artist (and former farmer, steelworker, clothes-seller, and small-time antiques trader), then 43 years old, felt pretty good about the experimental ink landscapes he had been tinkering with for three years, so he marched down to Beijing to knock on some gallery doors.

“They asked me, ‘What association are you part of?’ I said, ‘None,’” Feng recalls on a video call with TWOC, “and they said, ‘Then we don’t want to look at [your work].’”

A decade later in 2017, Feng, who is from Fushun, Liaoning province, found himself invited to the 7th Biennale Hors Normes in Lyon, France, to present his works—which have grown increasingly wild, often featuring ghostly acrylic animals and human figures held together by prickly lines, and made on found scrap paper or fabrics. He was also asked to paint a mural for the event. But this wasn’t intended to make Feng an art world insider, either, as the biennale is a fair dedicated to “outsider art.”

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Outside Looking In is a story from our issue, “Promised Land.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Siyi Chu (褚司怡)

Siyi is the Culture Editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about arts, culture, and society, and is ever-curious about the minds, hearts, and souls inside all of these spheres. Before joining TWOC, she was a freelance writer with some additional work experience in independent filmmaking and the field of education.

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