Ai Weiwei Reflects on the Sadness of Ren Hang’s Photographs
The sudden death of photographer and poet Ren Hang on Feb. 24 shook the art world to its core. His photographs were a radiant celebration of sensuality and the naked beauty of life that he continued to create despite constant censorship from the Chinese government.
But the artist behind the vision had long struggled with depression, writing extensively about his mental turmoil, and was finally driven to take his own life two weeks ago. As Ren Hang’s friends, family and fans still come to terms with the loss, TIME spoke to Ai Weiwei, an eminent Chinese artist who has also suffered artistic persecution.
“[Ren Hang’s] works interpreted sex in a Chinese way, which contained a sense of loss and sorrow,” Weiwei tells TIME. “In Chinese literature or poetry, sex is about something which is impossible. It’s very different from the West. It’s sexier.”
There can be no doubt that Ren Hang’s images were elegantly explicit; he was keen to portray Chinese sexuality in an unexpected way. He once said of his work: “I don’t want others having the impression that Chinese people are robots… Or they do have sexual genitals but always keep them as some secret treasures.”
Photo: Ren Hang courtesy of TASCHEN