Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The truth is not always something rosy"

Their weapons are brushes; their battlefields are canvases. And here in China, where political dissent often leads to prosecution, the works of avant-garde artists can sometimes appear as threatening as a mass protest.

Enter the Gao brothers, Qiang and Zhen, soft-spoken siblings who have long used startling images of Mao Tse-tung as a focal point for their sculptures, paintings and performance pieces.

"I don't consider myself a dissident at all," said Gao Qiang, 48. "I never even think about this question. I just use art to express what I want to express."

Regardless, they have become two of the most incendiary figures in the Chinese contemporary art world.

Over the years, authorities have raided their exhibits, confiscated their pieces, jailed their associates, and turned off the electricity in their studio. The brothers — who are scheduled to have their first solo show in Los Angeles in September — have been denied passports and were forbidden from leaving the Chinese mainland for more than a decade, up until 2003.

"The truth is not always something rosy," said Gao Zhen, 54. "Often it involves conflict, strife. I hope we can get at the truth through our art."

The recent opening of "Portraits," their latest exhibition in Beijing, served as an unambiguous reminder of the brothers' delicate position in a country that still places tight restrictions on freedom of expression, including art.

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