Zhang Dali

Zhang Dali, Demolition: Time Plaza, Beijing, 1999

Zhang Dali, Demolition: World Financial Center, Beijing, 1998

Zhang Dali, Dialogue: Full Link Plaza, Beijing, 1998

Zhang Dali, the most famous graffiti artist in China, sprayed his profile all over Beijing. Here’s his explanation of the work:

In the summer of 1992, I began to implement the plan for my work, which was intended to take art out of the studio and let it communicate directly with the outside world. I chose graffiti, which has two advantages: it’s fast and it blends seamlessly with the environment. My photography recorded and exhibited the concept behind this work: I believe that human beings are the products of their environment. I am concerned about the changes in our living environment that have been imposed by money and power, and about human rights in the midst of such a process of imposition. Under normal circumstances, the relationship between humans and the environment would be naturally balanced. However, the current reality is one of force and passive acceptance.

I don’t think that I can solve the problems. But through art, I can demonstrate–to those subjected to control and numbed by habit–the truth of the afflictions that we suffer. Bulldozers alter the appearance of streets overnight, which makes people accept modernization, while depriving many people of their possessions and their spiritual resources. I document the demolished homes and the new life established among the ruins.

My camera (a Yashica FX-3) is not only my eye, but also a tool for my thinking. The fortress of reinforced concrete that has been erected amidst the stink of money and red slogans has impaired the vision of good people and sedated the nerves of those who were once awake. Some people are used to being slaves; some people chose to be accomplices. The judgment and distinction between good and evil is a difficult problem confronting Chinese artists and the entire nation. Is the emperor wearing new clothes?

Zhang Dali, “Artist Statement,” in Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, Wu Hung and Christopher Phillips (Chicago: Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago and New York: International Center of Photography, 2004), p. 217.

About erinbarnett

Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the International Center of Photography, New York
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