The exhibition at the Galerie Paris-Beijing promises to be politically engaged. Dedicated to artists who are not afraid to say what they think, it presents a selection of videos and photographs that have been censored in their country. The criteria for selecting the artwork were therefore not exclusively their artistic qualities. Derision, allusions and imagination, the presented artists take a stance, argue and complain in more or less measured terms. The works of art show that, where the worlds of art and dissidence meet, the desire to utter an opinion is irrepressible.
Let’s now immerse ourselves in the exhibition. Honour where honour is due: Ai Weiwei first of all. A figurehead, and certainly the best known and most powerful of this selection, as told in the documentary film directed by Alison Klayman, which won a prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for its challenging spirit. An artist and activist, Ai Weiwei is one of 303 Chinese intellectuals who signed the Charter 082. This ‘major thorn in the Chinese regime who symbolizes the resistance to censorship, was detained for 81 days in 2011. Yet he keeps resisting the established powers, reminding everyone to safeguard their individual freedoms. The international opinion supports him and lets him know. The documentary shows Ai Weiwei preparing one of his finest projects, Sunflower Seeds, for which he scattered 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds hand-painted by the Jingdezhen artisans. The ‘seeds’ covered the floor of the Tate Modern in 2010 – a spectacular installation of great historical and political significance. A gray sea of humanity as well. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, propaganda represented Mao in the sun, with the people bowing towards him like sunflowers.
Our favourite is Zhang Dali. The man imported into Beijing the graffiti art he discovered in Bologna, spray-painting images of his own head on the walls of traditional Chinese buildings that were scheduled for demolition. His works are visually strong and reflect the profound changes in Chinese society: the rubble of rapid urbanization that is transforming the cityscape and underpins inequalities. A dialogue between the city and the artist. Liu Bolin staged his own disappearance by camouflaging himself in an environment that conceals his identity. Are we the only ones to see a touch of irony? Hei Yue humorously defies the authorities. The rebellious Gao Brothers, Zhen and Giang, merge wacky concepts and criticism in a pastiche of traditional figures. No wonder that guards are posted at the entrance of their studio. The pictures of Mo Yi best reflect the malaise of a suppressed society which instills the fear of detention. The artist takes pictures of himself as a prisoner from all sides, like a mug shot. Other leading artists include Junyong Wu, Chi Peng, Mo Yi Ren Hang, Liu Wei, Huang Xiang, Zhi Jian and Tang Maohong.
Let’s conclude with a word from dissident Liu Xiaobo, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and whose wife is under house arrest in Beijing: “I firmly believe that China’s political progress will not stop and I optimistically look forward to the advent of a future free China. For there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom,” he said with confidence in 2009.
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