Ren Hang: Capturing Youth

“Photography plays a very important role in my life. In fact, it’s part of my life, like eating, walking or sleeping. There’s no difference.”

A face appears from a crown of palms. Two people bend backwards against Beijing’s skyline. A bright blue peacock obscures a portrait. This is work by late Chinese photographer and poet Ren Hang (1987- 2017), currently on view at Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato. The artist is best known for his carefree, high contrast images of young people. He worked with models who were often his friends, posing nude in brightly lit rooms or within lush outdoor environments. Swans, snakes, cherries, apples, flowers and plants were used as props, adding layers of meaning.

The photographs were met with controversy and censorship in China, and were often considered subversive. Hang never desired to be considered a political artist, instead highlighting a new generation of youth who were exploring their identity and sexuality. These visuals show an appreciation for bodies, transforming them into sculptural shapes whilst breaking down restrictive ideas surrounding gender. Ren Hang was a self-taught photographer who pushed against taboos. “We were born nude,” he said. “I just photographed things in their more natural conditions.” Indeed, these works also revel in the relationship between humans and the wild, with figures interacting with brightly coloured plants and animals.

Alongside his photographs, Ren Hang wrote poetry with similar themes. Often tender, sensual and completely uncensored, his verses were another tool to break social barriers and explore ideas of life, death and desire. Both text and image are marked with a sense of mystery, melancholy and a deep self-reflection. “Art originates from the relationship you have with yourself,” he explained. “It’s only through how you feel things that you can communicate something to others.”

Ren Hang: Nudes runs until 23 August. Find out more here.

Lead image: Ren Hang, Portrait Plant, 2012. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.
1. Ren Hang, Peacock, 2016. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.
2. Ren Hang, Kissing Roof, 2012. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.
3. Ren Hang, Two Girls Dress, 2016. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.
4. Ren Hang, Muur, 2016. Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate.