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Su Zizi: China's student nude prepares for 'shocking' exhibition
She dropped her clothes to pay her way through school, shot to fame, and now she's planning to reveal even more of herself in her next Beijing art show
Ever since blogger Fei Wo Feifei Wo uploaded a clip of nude model Su Zizi (her stage name) on the Internet at the end of last year, the Renmin University student has become the first true Internet celebrity in China in 2011.
The Chinese media has so far focused on either scandalizing Su’s nude modeling career, which she began to pay for her college tuition and support her grandmother, or on dismissing Su’s rise to fame as something that occurred due to pure luck rather than talent.
Neither characterization is entirely accurate.
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It's now common knowledge that Su was born into a poor family, abandoned by her parents when they divorced, and raised by a paralyzed grandmother, but here she reveals much more about her path to online stardom and what lies ahead.
There is unrivaled beauty in the natural expression of human emotion, and what can be more natural than the naked human body?— Su Zizi, nude model and Internet sensation
From business to art
“I went into nude modeling because we desperately needed money to pay for my grandmother’s medical fees. I didn’t really understand the profession at all [before I started],” says Su of her early nude modeling career.
Most of her projects were commercial photo shoots, earning her as much as RMB 500 a shoot, but she quickly realized that the complex nature of the industry didn't suit her.
The industry’s "hidden rules" were the greatest threat to the inexperienced 20 year old.
“I was constantly harassed and told that if I wanted to earn money, I would have to ‘pay the price.’ I couldn’t stand it any longer so I left,” she says.
That explains many of the seemingly cryptic posts on Su’s blog, one such entry was posted in early March 2010: "I’m beginning to reject some commercial shoots. There are too many shadows, and I can’t see the sun. I feel like running, I want to chase my dreams.”
The Renmin University art major eventually moved on from commercial shoots and started posing for famous Chinese photographers such as Cui Jian and Liu Zheng.
Last November, Su successfully held a photography exhibition in Beijing titled “Who Am I.” It showcased a series of pictures of her in the nude, and helped her shoot to fame overnight.
“There is unrivaled beauty in the natural expression of human emotion, and what can be more natural than the naked human body?” she says of the show as she smiles.
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Taking it all off in front of male photographers is no easy feat, but Su says she has developed a strategy for overcoming any psychological barriers.
“Once you’re calm, they’ll be calm too. Because they know that they are only using your body as a tool for expressing emotion.”
Love and family
Su met her current boyfriend seven months ago. He’s 10 years older than her and is also a Beijing resident.
“He has a proper job and wears business shirts to work. We belong in two different worlds,” she confesses, adding that what she likes most about him is the sense of security he gives her.
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“After achieving Internet popularity, I feel that my life has actually become more peaceful. I feel especially safe when I am with my boyfriend. I’m very lucky to have him,” she says demurely.
She appreciates his silent but steadfast support, so much so that she says rumors and Internet criticism of her and her modeling have no effect on her daily life.
Su doesn't deny the media accounts of her background, openly talking about how she was abandoned by her parents when they divorced and raised by her grandmother. The inconsistent upbringing, she says, left her with a hazy concept of family.
“Before [meeting my boyfriend], I never knew what it was like to be part of a complete family, but now when I’m by my boyfriend’s side, I’m starting to like my new concept of family.”
I went into nude modeling because we desperately needed money to pay for my grandmother’s medical fees. I didn’t really understand the profession at all.— Su Zizi, nude model and Internet sensation
If you peel away the labels the media has given her, Su is in fact a cheeky and slightly rebellious post-1990s child.
“I’m a really random person,” says Su. “I don’t have much money and I hate choosing clothes.”
As a result, large-sized children’s clothes sold for less than RMB 100 in Beijing’s Xidan District have become her attire of choice.
“Moreover, children’s clothes are all made of cotton so it naturally cares for my skin, isn’t that good?”
Although she generally gets along fine with her classmates in Renmin University, she feels that she is not quite like all the other students.
“My classmates like to dress like office workers and they all lead very guarded lives, you can barely tell that they are art students. Perhaps it’s because my school has a very strong political tradition,” she comments.
And while her Internet fame has not substantially affected her life, Su and her controversial exhibition have stirred up much heated discussion between Chinese netizens.
Even though some netizens support Su’s career choice, even more still hold the profession in contempt. Some even have said they feel sorry for Su or blame her for not making a “decent living” for herself.
Su, on the other hand, says that she hopes that her artwork will have a chance to change the prejudices that the majority of Chinese society still holds against nude art.
“Prejudices exist when people don’t know or don’t understand something. That is why I hope to help more people understand body art,” she says.
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Those who wish to further understand Su and her "body art" will get their next opportunity at her next photography exhibition to be held on March 18 in Beijing.
“This exhibition will be very, very shocking,” says Su mysteriously.
She refuses to divulge further details.