Ren Hang, a Chinese photographer, and artist, known for pushing the boundaries of sexualization and human affairs in a traditional social environment passed away in 2017 due to his ongoing battle with depression. Even being so young, Hang was able to make waves within the international contemporary art world. Hang was born in 1987 and a small suburb of a Northeastern Chinese town. His parents were the classic 9 to 5 workers who provided an average childhood. He then moved to Beijing at the age of 17, where his love for photography became his life. He started taking more expressive photos when he was living with roommates. Then when he got enough photos to start displaying t exhibitions, Hang could show his work at small galleries and studios, and over time, his work started to catch the eye of the international crowd. Hang was an artist that chose a field that could relay the messages of youthful sexualisation and the insides of a very secretive life.

Life of the Artist: Ren Hang - Sheet1
Portrait of Ren Hang_Odalïsque M

Hang’s career started in 2007 by using a “point-and-shoot” camera on mostly his friends. His work did not require much in the way of props or settings, but instead utilized the perfection and imperfection of the human body itself. He created a diverse portfolio of images that depicted nudes and the sexuality of his muses. His work often involved clean imagery – which tied into the Chinese heritage and culture whilst also depicting a “dirtier” theme. His work grew in popularity, and he became an international muse for artists. He was able to break the boundary of casual yet proper and expose a side of Chinese culture that is traditionally hidden. Since he was living with many roommates in Beijing, the chance of seeing people in the nude was much higher than others. This sparked more photos to be made, and his work started being published in books as well as shown in galleries.

Life of the Artist: Ren Hang - Sheet2
A photograph image by Ren Hang on the cover of the book “Athens Love_Klein Sun Gallery and the artist, Ren Hang, All Rights Reserved

His work often created turmoil within the Chinese government due to the exposing nature of his photos and images. There are strict regulations when it comes to sexualisation and nudity within China. Often used when describing his photos was the word “porn” which is prohibited by the Chinese government. This brought up a discussion of the line between “porn” and expressive sexuality. Sometimes his exhibitions were shut down by the government due to this discussion as well as some of his shots that were taken outdoors compared to within a studio. Even though his work was often under wraps by the Chinese government, his beautiful photos and imagery were able to create international shockwaves throughout the 2010s.

Life of the Artist: Ren Hang - Sheet3
Ren Hang_TASCHEN Publishing

His images often depicted nudes of both females and males in China. They often had the subject in focus and centred in the image, using simple and clean backdrops. Pops of bright colours, often of warmth, created the clean yet proud moment of Chinese heritage juxtaposed with sexuality often hidden within the culture. His shots were both outside and inside and focused on a bright, clear flash used to truly capture the body as the heart and soul of the image. The environments the bodies were imagined in, simply provided a frame for the bodies to “pop”. Sometimes the subjects were placed with natural elements, such as flowers, plants, flowing water, snakes, and cats. These helped depict the bodies by juxtaposing them with other natural elements that are allowed to be seen consistently outdoors. Often Hang’s work provided an insight into his disappointment with the Chinese government’s hold on creating something so artificial out of every human’s natural body. These images’ “taboo” nature is only subject to the government’s hold on the people. They can try to prevent the natural exploratory aspect of the human body but cannot prevent each human body from being exploratory themselves.

Ren Hang, via TASCHEN Publishing

Yet, Mr Hang was suffering from depression during his climb to fame. He struggled for years with the idea of suicide, and in 2017 he took his own life by jumping off a building. His work, however, did not depict the pain he was feeling inside. The photos encapsulated the interior feelings and emotions of pent-up struggles of sexualism within the traditional culture of China. The ability to have the space to showcase such a provocative series and bring to light a discussion of images that would beforehand have been immediately shut down, Hang was able to press on the world’s heart. The imagery that never has been seen from within China, was able to make it around the world – with galleries in Sweden, Amsterdam, and other major cities. This provided a new look at the inner turmoil of emotions, sexualities, and bodies within a highly regulated environment.

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