Sheng Qi – Painful Memories

Sheng Qi is an acclaimed and remarkable artist and undoubtedly one of my favourites.

I’m a fan of him partially because of his artistic boldness, but also because of his personal bravery.

Sheng Qi is famous because, after witnessing the incidents in Tiananmen in 1989, he was so upset that he chopped off his own pinky finger. That is why you will often see the motif of a three-fingered hand in his paintings and artworks. The story has it that after he chopped off the finger, he left it in a plant pot. Perhaps he hoped that a new China might sprout from it like a plant.

Sheng Qi’s body of work is so extensive that it’s a little difficult to talk about all of it! So I won’t try to talk about all of it – I’ll just talk about the works that I find had the biggest impact on me.

The first one which made a really big impact on me – maybe because it was the first work I ever saw – was Yellow Mao. In this work, Sheng Qi depicts the outline of Chairman Mao’s head using negative space, negative space formed from a large group of people. The background is a deep, fiery yellow and paint drips down the work reminiscent of tears. For me the work speaks to a profound, powerful memory of Mao that is now held in the Chinese people. It speaks to the incredible and dreadful impact he had on the country. Despite the rather morose undercurrents, the artwork is really quite beautiful and striking. I wish I was able to afford having it on my wall! Haunting…

Another of Sheng Qi’s artworks which sticks in my mind is not a painting but a sculpture. That work is the bronze statue – an imitation of his own hand. In this piece, his hand seems to pierce through the earth and point towards the sky. It seems to evoke a sense of permanence. I wonder if he’s trying to embody and immortalise the painful memory of the events in 1989. His hand – the symbol of that pain; the solid, heavy bronze – the symbol of permanence and memory.

As I type I realise that these are these themes of Sheng Qi’s work – that pain, that misery caused by Mao and Tiananmen, and the deep scars that live on in China’s psyche. It seems important to Sheng Qi that this pain is not forgotten. This feels like a noble cause and one that I can really respect.

For more information, see Sheng Qi’s personal website.

If you’re interested you can also buy artworks by Sheng Qi on the Hua Gallery website.