ART FEATURE: Zeng Fanzhi Reimagines Economic Progress

MIA MARTIN WRITES – A picture is worth a thousand words.  For modern Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi, those thousand words represented two major political issues: poverty and inequality.

The Last Supper Photo
Zeng Fanzhi’s The Last Supper

Officials have recognized the high poverty rate in Hong Kong, identifying the city as capitalist in nature with minimal support from the rest of socialist China. But little change has occurred although citizens have protested against the inequality.

Poverty levels in Hong Kong largely inspired Zeng Fanzhi’s silkscreen print The Last Supper. His ability to communicate understanding of the Chinese Cultural Revolution through expressionism has made Fanzhi one of the most financially successful Asians artists of his generation.

Zeng Fanzhi was born in 1964 in Wuhan, China. This area was strongly affected by the Cultural Revolution.  His observations during this period fueled his work while he attended Hubei Academy of Fine Art.  Fanzhi found himself greatly influenced by the artist movement of expressionism, specifically German expressionism.

In 2001, Fanzhi created The Last Supper, a large silk screen print measuring 66 centimeters by 121 centimeters.  Fanzhi’s The Last Supper was created to mimic Da Vinci’s Last Supper.  Like the original, Fanzhi’s interpretation depicts twelve people.

In Fanzhi’s print, the twelve young men are all wearing masks. This illustrates the current state of deception and self-expression currently seen within the Chinese Culture. Each man is also wearing a colored scarf around his neck. According to an interview with Fanzhi, the red scarves represent communism.

It’s worth noting that the young man sitting in Judas’ seat is wearing the only yellow scarf, which represents Western capitalism, marking him as the traitor. This symbolism is significant in that the piece was created at a time when Western capitalism was just beginning to emerge in China.

The significance of The Last Supper was made obvious by the high price it fetched at auction. The price paid set the record for any Chinese artist to date at $22.5 million USD.

Fanzhi’s background with the Cultural Revolution allows certain concepts to be derived from The Last Supper. Specifically, it is clear that he overall Cultural Revolution remains within the construct of Communism.  More importantly, the impact of this piece made it clear that artists like Fanzhi are bringing focus to issues of poverty and inequality in Hong Kong.


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