By Michael Martin
Published: 2007-11-30

Outsider art is flourishing at FengGuo Box, a monthly creative market held in Beijing's Zhongguancun district. EEO intern journalist Michael Martin reports.

Passing a stall at the FengGuo Box Exhibit, Bai Li picks up a crocheted, yarn-adorned pillow and scrutinizes it with intrigue. She suddenly realizes that it is a pair of breasts. Her confusion turns to shock, and then gives way laughter. "I like this," she says, "because it shows that the female body is beautiful and interesting enough to be art."

 At the Zhongguancun Plaza Shopping Mall in Beijing, what first seems like another flea market is actually a forum for everyday people to turn expression into enterprise. The result is both a representation of the diverse issues and experiences that shape Beijing's youth culture, and the cultivation of an art community devoted its own personality in the face  an often risk-averse industry.

Founder Wang Sanshi, himself an oil painter, started FengGuo Box in January 2007 to help fellow struggling artists overcome financial barriers to sharing their work. Explaining his inspiration for the program, he said, "The pressure of just surviving makes it very difficult for [artists] to pursue their creativity."

Wang charges artists a 200 yuan-per-month service charge and 20% commission on sales to feature their creations at monthly exhibits and in the unadorned crate boxes at his showroom in Zhongguancun, the fashion and IT shopping district surrounding Peking University. He looks for three traits when assessing submissions: originality, small-scale production (nothing factory-made), and clearly distinguishable artistic intent.

The response was overwhelming. After less than a year in business, FengGuo Box has attracted almost 200 amateur artists and designers, all unified by a common spirit: "This is a group that hasn't succumbed to life's pressures- a group of idealists," Wang Sanshi said, "We feel that the term 'free spirit' best describes [the FengGuo Box] artist."

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