The banned Chinese photographer on show in Paris
Ren Hang has been curated by Ai Weiwei, arrested while shooting and has had visitors spit on his photographs
James Joyce's Ulysses was banned in Britain upon its publication; Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs were often subject to censorship of one form or another during the artist's lifetime; Nan Goldin even had a show of her closed down in Brazil in 2011, after censors objected to the display of nude, sexual photographs beside images of children.
With this in mind, perhaps we shouldn’t be especially judgemental when we read that the 26-year-old Beijing photographer and poet Ren Hang says, by way of introduction to his current Paris exhibition, “I am pleased to present my work in France, as it is difficult to exhibit my pictures in China.”
Ren's exhibition, La Chine a Nue, at Paris' Nue Galerie (on until 14 March) is typical of the artist's work. Ren's pictures, some of which were also shown at the Ai Weiwei curated Fuck Off 2 exhibition in The Netherlands last year, bring to mind the nudes of Goldin, Mapplethorpe, Terry Richardson, Ryan McGinley and Larry Clarke, as well as the work of a few of his fellow countrymen, such as the performance artist Zhang Huan.
The pictures we've run here are artfully conceived and don't appear to be willfully controversial. Ren's poetry seems to possess similar qualities: at points priapic, at other moments contemplative. Certainly, his working life would be easier where he to change subject matter.
“My photos, especially the ones of naked bodies, are forbidden to be shown in Chinese galleries,” he told Vice recently. “Only occasionally can the ones that aren't explicit be shown, but I still face many difficulties even with them. For example, one of my shows was cancelled by the Chinese government on 'suspicion of sex' and, another time, a visitor spat at one of my photos. And those are just a couple of examples of the problems I've had. None of China's press will publish my books and I've been arrested while shooting photos outside before.”
We certainly hope this exhibition helps Ren work more ably. For more on the show, go here and for greater insight into China's artistic tradition, pick up a copy of The Chinese Art Book. Meanwhile, for more on contemporary photography, pre-order Photography Today.