Chinese art breaks through in London


Sheng QiThe Western world still does not know much about the political and economic on-goings in China, apart from what is communicated in the news.

But this is changing, owing to that Chinese contemporary artists are spreading their work all over Europe. They are promoting cultural understanding and raising awareness of the differences between the European and the Asian world. This creates a bridge from one to the other world.

The artist Sheng Qi is one of few Chinese contemporary artists who exhibited his work at the Hua Gallery in London until Christmas.

Yet, the artist has widely distinguished himself from other Chinese artists exhibited in the word’s financial capital. Zeng Fanzhi, for example, is currently showing his latest paintings from 2012 at the Gagosian Gallery until the end of January; while the Southbank Center has recently closed its Art of Change: New directions from China exhibition in December.

By his work Qi addresses the political and economical misconduct, which has been taken place in the country ever since, especially under Mao Zedong.

Bige (2010) - Sheng QuiThe most striking painting in his first solo-exhibition is titled Bige (2010), depicting a king-sized orange Mao oversees his grey faceless, bending over and equally looking citizens. However, Mao’s downward looking gaze and forward bending body posture gives the impression of gratefulness and calmness, even though this is not the case in reality.

Almost each of Qi’s painting depicts the ex-leader of the Chinese Communist party and his folk being subject to him. The two subjects in his paintings are clearly differentiated due to Mao’s a shining pink, red and orange tone, which stands in contrast to his grey and inconsiderable folk. These colours highlight, who has got power in China; and who is just a puppet having to bend under the country’s leadership.

Oppression, coldness, indifference, servitude, corruption, power and loneliness are the subjects of Qi’s art.

However, in contrast to the negative subjects of his art, the artist’s name Qi stands for energy. This fits the bill, as the artist has been an active opponent of China’s regime since.

In 1989, when people protested heavily at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Qi cut off the little finger of his left hand and buried it in a flower plot.

The small sculpture My Left Hand (2004) shows the artist’s remaining left hand. This evokes thoughts about how significant the incident was in the light of the brutal massacre, taking place at the world’s third largest square and killed thousands of protestants.

Chinese contemporary art, which expresses antagonism against the political regime, can only be published in China if it still treats politicians with respect. Hence, only then artists don not have to fear prosecution, Dagmar Carnevale the manager of the Hua Gallery told WatchFineArtsLondon. 

Although China’s economy is still only the second largest in the world (predicted to become the largest by 2020), its net foreign wealth has widely increased as it invests large sums of money in the US economy since about 2000.

China’s current premier minister, Wen Jiabao, is one of the subjects of Qi’s small Fan series (2012), which addresses the importance of the Chinese yuan and of the stance of stance of the Chinese economy in the world.

Sir Ka-shing Li (2011) - Sheng Qi

Notably, the undervaluation of the yuan is closely linked to China’s political and economical success.

If Qi could exhibit his painting depicting Mr Jiabao with a fan of pink yuan banknotes in his hand in China, at this point of time, without having to fear prosecution, is questionable. However, if the painting was exhibited after Mr Jiabo’s ten-year period of being in office had expired, he would not – most likely  – have to fear prosecution.

To point out, after Mao’s ministry ended, China has started to change for the better.

The current stagnation of economic growth in China, the upcoming elections and more and more Chinese artists promoting their art outside of China, could lead to a further relevant step towards a new area for the world’s second largest economy.

Sheng Qi’s latest exhibition was shown at the Hua Gallery at Battersea in London just until Christmas. 

(The opinions expressed are my own. I am a freelance journalist based in London and Vienna exploring the changing art market.)

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