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Zhang Huan Shanghai family tree 2001

Shanghai family tree 2001

In 1999 the internationally renowned Chinese performance and video artist, sculptor and photographer Zhang Huan wrote of his distinctive approach to his practice: ‘The body is the only direct way through which I come to know society and society comes to know me. The body is proof of identity. The body is language’. The complex tangle of history and tradition that can override the individual appears as a theme in much of Zhang Huan’s avant-garde performances and photographs and, as seen in this work, is frequently expressed through the use of language. In Shanghai family tree Zhang Huan (to the left) poses with a man and woman, their faces becoming increasingly obscured by Chinese characters. This work seems to suggest the importance of language which, while it can overwhelm the individual, undoubtedly also helps define a person’s relationship to society.