Collaborative practices and co-creation of knowledge
: Narratives of self-representation and self-identity within the Shui ethnic minority in China

  • Yuhui Jiang

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research program explores the Shui ethnic minority identity in China through the cultural symbols of daily life and personal experiences to narrate stories through creative practice. Video and installation artworks explore the importance of narrative to reflect the states of flux and diversity within the Shui ethnic minority identity.

This practice-based PhD research engages the indigenous Shui ethnic group through artistic practice to explore and enhance the agency of ethnic minorities. In this research, I have developed a hybrid methodology, using person-centred ethnography combined with a creative collaboration model. I have invited different generations of Shui participants to share their unique creative means of expression, through their embroidery, performance, script, and social media practices. Collecting and analysing the medium they choose to represent their views through creative art making. I am focusing on their creative practice to see how identity is expressed, and find out more about their perception of their own identity. Also in order to examine the dynamics between tradition and change. My theoretical framework is informed by Stella Ting-Toomy’s theory of identity negotiation (Ting-Toomy, S. 1999). Within this framework, I integrate the theory of the ‘stage’ identity (Goffman, E. 1956) and Judith Butler’s theory of the ‘performative’ model (Butler, J.1999). I situate this Western-centric theoretical framework in the Chinese minorities’ context to inform my artistic practice through theoretical propositions, thus revealing the complexity of Shui ethnic identities and challenging existing stereotypes. Video artworks present diverse narratives, using participants’ stories and local knowledge to reveal the fluidity of Shui cultural identity. The series of installations explore how the connection processes between the materials and personal experience can generate reflection and dialogue between different generations of Shui people and outsiders.

The art exhibition of my creative practice in May 2022 in Xuzhou demonstrated the value of creative arts to debate identity among ethnic minorities in China and build bridges of dialogue between the internal and the ‘outsiders’. It generates new forms of artistic language, expression and practice that have the potential not only to provide insight into the dynamic identity of the Shui people but also to reveal new ways of ‘being’ between tradition and modernity. This exploration of globalisation, assimilation, and the Shui as a sample of cultural minority offers new perspectives and novel understandings. In the realm of contemporary art, this research contributes valuable insights into the Shui minority’s cultural identity.
Date of AwardOct 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorOle Hagen (Supervisor), Charlotte Gould (Supervisor) & Paul Sermon (Supervisor)

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