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Ren Hang, Chinese poet and photographer, passed away at 29.
With his intense portraits of friends, posing nude in often strange and surreal compositions, Ren Hang became one of the leading artists in Chinese contemporary photography. His playful arrangements of limbs, animals and objects blurred the boundaries between performance and photography, inviting the spectator into a world where nudity an sexuality are nothing but naturally.
Charged with erotism, playing with queerness, his work has often been seen as a political statement, questioning his home country’s repression of sexuality and sexual identity. However, he was entirely disinterested in any sort of political or socially conscious interception of his work.
“I don’t have a motivation,” he told CNN. “I don’t know about others, but I’m sure I don’t look at art that way.”
Even so he refused to be seen as a political artist, the ongoing battle with the Chinese government, including multiple arrests and his works being confiscated, made him an icon for those battling censorship. Supported by Ai Wei Wei, and compared to photographers such as Ryan Mcginley and Nobuyoshi Araki, he became one of the most acclaimed artists of his generation. Despite the troubles to exhibit in his homeland, he was shown in galleries worldwide, and commissioned by high-profile fashion magazines.
“I don’t want others having the impression that Chinese people are robots with no cocks or pussies,” he told Dian Hanson, who edited a retrospective photo book at Taschen. “Or they do have sexual genitals but always keep them as some secret treasures. I want to say that our cocks and pussies are not embarrassing at all.”
“I usually shoot my friends,” he once said. “Because strangers make me nervous.”
His models, usually just his friends, are arranged into strange living sculptures, interwoven bodies,limbs and faces that interact both with each other the world around them. Images, that, in a mesmerizing way, are staged while having the easiness of a snapshot. Shot with his old point and shoot film camera, these images of shameless beauty transport the erotic and playful energies between him and his intimate circle of companions.
“I’m doing this because I still get a feeling of novelty from it,” he said. “And it fills the emptiness of my heart.”
Ren Hang endured a long battle with depression, an experience he sometimes described in the form of poetry on his webpage.
He passed away February 23, 2017. He was 29 years old. May he rest in peace.
Two high-profile solo exhibitions of Ren Hang work are currently on view:
“Naked/Nude” at the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam (until March 12 2017),
and “Human Love” at the Fotografiska Museum in Stockholm (until April 2 2017).
All images (except the portrait of the artist) are by Ren Hang and from the latest (2016) photo section of his website.