One of China’s most talented young photographers, Ren Hang, has passed away. The controversial young artist, who had been arrested multiple times in his homeland and had his often sexually provocative work censored, appeared to struggle with depression.
He was born in 1987 in Changchun, a city in northeast China, to a father who worked on the railways and a mother who worked in a printing works. He studied communications at university but the subject gave him little satisfaction. Fulfillment only came in 2008, at the age of 21, when he turned his attention to photography.
He built a career centered around erotic, high-flash imagery that pushed boundaries not only in his homeland but around the globe. Using point-and-shoot film cameras and photographing mostly his friends, Mr. Ren built up an extensive body of work in which clothing was a rarity and gender and sexuality an afterthought. Body parts are presented in every form: erect, limp, hairy, shaved, stacked, twisted, intertwined, bent, and pinched. The fashion industry quickly took note, and Hang received many high-profile gigs including fashion editorials with Purple, Frank Ocean‘s magazine Boys Don’t Cry and even Numéro China.
Many have seen his works as a commentary on evolving sexual ideas and the struggle for creative and sexual freedom in a conservative, tightly controlled society. His explicit works inevitably provoked a strong response from authorities in China, where pornography is illegal and where artists have often fought against censorship and state interference. He was arrested several times, and his work confiscated. He freely shared his works on his website and his Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr accounts, accumulating thousands of young fans, some of whom would apply to model for him.
Ren Hang exhibited prolifically, staging more than 20 solo and 70 group art shows, and publishing several monographs of his work. At the time of his death, he had just released a new book with Taschen and launched an exhibition at an Amsterdam gallery.
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