Remembering Ren Hang
Chinese photographer Ren Hang has reportedly passed away
Published on 24 February 2017
Yesterday afternoon came out with the news that Ren Hang had reportedly committed suicide. The news has been confirmed by friends, publisher Pierre Bessard, and Belgian gallerist Dries Roelens.
Born in 1987 in North East China’s Jilin, dubbed the “Detroit of China”, at 20-years-old Ren was studying advertising, then found a remedy with a point-and-shoot camera and he began taking photos of his friends – namely, his housemate in the nude. Less than a decade later, his work would have crisscrossed the world with exhibitions in cities such as Athens, Bangkok, New York, Paris, Vienna, Hong Kong, and more. Based in Beijing at the time of his death, tragically he was just one month shy of his 30th birthday.
Staunchly censored in China, his work was often defaced when it was displayed in public and he was arrested several times. The climate felt ripe for him to anchor his work with a political statement. And while people attempted to tease this sort of commentary from him, Ren always refused.“I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context, or political context. I don’t intentionally push boundaries, I just do what I do.”
He also denied that his work was influenced by his home country. “My pictures’ politics have nothing to do with China. It’s Chinese politics that wants to interfere with my art,” he told Dazed in early 2015, adding that “China has had little influence on me. If I as born in American, I would like American models.”
Ren challenged the human body by choreographing his models (who were his friends, sometimes fans) like puzzle pieces; hands layered over breasts or pulled between legs, fingers covering faces and legs akimbo. Gender was never a focal point and each model was as nude, skinny, often shaven, and creative in their poses as the last. “Gender… only matters to me when I’m having sex”, he once said. The nudity? “It’s more natural if they’re not wearing clothes”, he explained. Although sometimes they did, and Ren was tapped by numerous magazines and brands to shoot editorials for them, including Numéro China, Purple Fashion Magazine and Vice.
Ren Hang was a visionary, a photographer that captured something so defiantly human, an artist who offered an intensely emotional portrayal of our existence. A tragedy of his passing is not just how young he was, but how active he was and how widely his art is now being recognised – there are currently Ren Hang exhibitions open in Amsterdam, Antwerp and Stockholm.
But alongside his fun and more than inspiring photographs were his poetry and writings, collectively titled “My Depression” – they detailed the severe bouts of depression that he suffered with. A post in 2010 wrote, “longing for death - is the driving force to live”. It remains published with many more musings that explored death, life and existence.
We're totally frustrated about Ren's journey ended so soon. Rip, Ren.
Take a peek at some of our favourites Ren's works in gallery below and see more here.