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An interview with Ren Hang

Image © Ren Hang, courtesy Stieglitz 19 gallery

The 29-year-old Chinese artist tragically died on Friday, but his work had already attracted world acclaim; here we republish an interview with him from our January 2014 Ones to Watch issue

“I do not think nudity is challenging – nudity is common, everybody has it,” says Ren Hang. “I like people naked and I like sex; I use nudity so that I can feel more realism and sense of presence.”

But whatever his view, his work has proved controversial in his native China, where galleries have found it difficult to show his images and “no Chinese fashion magazines let me make images”. Even so, he’s exhibited in China, Italy, France, Russia, Israel and Sweden, published his work in magazines around the world, and published several books, with organisations such as the respected Editions Bessard.

Image © Ren Hang, courtesy Stieglitz 19 gallery

Image © Ren Hang, courtesy Stieglitz 19 gallery

“Ren Hang’s images challenge conventional codes of morality in a still highly conservative society,” states another of his publishers, Editions du Lic. “[…]The artist’s homeland remains harshly censorial against any material it deems immoral and Hang’s work certainly plays with fire.”

Editions du Lic claims Hang is part of a new breed of 21st century Chinese artists, “riding the wave of modernisation and cultural reawakening in China”; Hang sees things more simply, stating he isn’t trying to say anything with his work, and only started taking photographs because he was bored in school.

Image © Ren Hang, courtesy Stieglitz 19 gallery

Image © Ren Hang, courtesy Stieglitz 19 gallery

Born in Chang Chun in Northeastern China in 1987, Hang now lives in Beijing, where – like his hero, Shuji Terayama – he writes poetry as well as taking photographs; Terayama also directed films and wrote plays).

“Terayama’s photos and movies bring me orgasms,” he tells BJP. “Like the pleasure of cumming but without masturbation.”

Image © Ren Hang, courtesy Stieglitz 19 gallery

Image © Ren Hang, courtesy Stieglitz 19 gallery

This interview was first published in BJP’s January 2014 Ones to Watch Issue # 7820. Images used with permission stieglitz19.be, whose director Dries Roelens curated the exhibition of Ren Hang’s work at FOAM Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam, which is titled Naked/Nude and on show until 12 March.