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Images from a country in transition

From CNN's Diana Magnay

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In his Buddha series of self-portraits, An Hong mixes images taken from Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism with elements of popular culture.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Not so long ago, showing images of China like those currently on display in an exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert museum could have meant a prison sentence for the artists and the curators.

Avant-garde art was officially banned after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

But after years of suppression, China's cultural and technological barriers are falling, and artists are bridging the digital divide.

The exhibition, called "Between Past and Future," shows new photography and video from China.

Co-curator Wu Hung told CNN that in the past 15 years or so, huge strides had been made for artists to express themselves more freely.

"In the mid-90s, the government had a very hostile attitude toward this kind of work, but right now, since (the) late 90s, the situation has been changing," he said.

"So like anything else, everything changes very fast in China, including the status of this kind of art."

Artists have been quick to react to the relaxation of censorship, exchanging traditional art forms for the opportunities offered by emerging technologies.

Mark Goldstein, editor of the Web site photographyblog.com, told CNN that digital art was still dependant on age-old photographic techniques.

"The creative view behind photography has been there since the days of film and is still there today, and digital photography will not change that in any way."

It is no surprise Chinese artists are turning to photography and video to express how they feel about modern day China -- both are mediums that capture in an instant a society that is changing by the second.

Former watercolor artist Miao Xiaochun now uses the latest photographic technology to reproduce carefully modified images on an enormous scale.

"I made many many negatives and then scanned them and manipulated them together in the computer," he told CNN.

"It is between the traditional photography and the digital photography so this is a mixture."

Co-curator Christopher Phillips told CNN that transformation was a recurring theme in the art on display at the V&A.

"I think there's a very ambivalent attitude on the part of many Chinese artists about the changes that the country is going through," he said.

"I think everyone takes enormous pride in the great economic progress that the country is making, at the same time they're seeing the most beautiful parts of their cities fall to the bulldozer literally overnight."

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