Zhang Huan (Chinese, born in 1965)
20 x 40 in.
Medium or Technique
Photograph, chromogenic print
Not On View
From a series of five photographs, four in the MFA collection (2006.851, 2006.852, 2006.853, 2007.595).
Zhang Huan was born in 1965 in the Chinese province of He Nan and studied painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. At school he grew frustrated with what he perceived as the limitation of traditional art and in 1992 took up performance with emphasis on the body. Upon graduation he settled in an inexpensive district that came to be known as “Beijing East Village,” where local artists showed their work and performed clandestinely for each other. Zhang’s first public performance, a 1993 protest against a ban on installation and performance art, resulted in his being arrested, fined, and forced to write a self-criticism. Zhang has staged performances worldwide—sometimes working by himself and sometimes with a cast of as many as fifty performers. Always ritualistic and metaphorical, the performances often involve submitting his naked body to extreme conditions. The photographs, My Boston, document a 2005 performance on the West Wing lawn of the MFA where the artist was buried and then emerged from under a pile of books; climbed to the top of a pyramid built of over 3,000 books where he sat regally eating pages torn from a small volume. The impetus for this performance was an incident in Chinese history: in 213 BC China was united for the first time as a country under the Qin Dynasty and, in order to control thought and possible dissent, the emperor declared that all books which did not conform to his philosophies be burned. Ceremonial, stately, and mysterious, Zhang’s performance, although inspired by a specific event in history, symbolized a dark passage that has occurred in many cultures throughout the world. However, the performance was complete only when the audience approached the pyramid and removed a book to take away with them, proving that knowledge and free thinking can never be stopped.
The artist; with Chambers Fine Arts, New York; gift to the MFA, Boston, March 22, 2006
Gift of the artist and Chambers Fine Art
© Zhang Huan