“My work is about what lies hidden beneath the surface.”
b.1981, Beijing. Lives and works in Beijing
Li Wei presents herself as a man partly because she believes men have the upper hand in the Chinese art world. Her highly realistic fibreglass sculptures mostly depict women and animals, with the scrupulous fidelity to physiognomy and anatomy that in the past was unique to European art. This style did not take hold in China until the late 20th century; socialist realism, recognising its universal appeal, tried to copy its effects but settled for politically correct caricature rather than personally resonant truth. Li Wei employs Western realism to create figures that look vaguely Chinese yet seem to belong to a different world from the triumphant soldiers and beaming peasants of the Maoist era. Slightly smaller than life and usually naked, they stand stock still, staring blankly at the floor or into space, as if avoiding the viewer’s gaze. (In the ICU series, the figures were comatose hospital patients.) Each figure is unique, with posture, hair, and features rendered in painstaking detail. Most appear to be locked inside themselves, suffering in their own mute and invisible way. Yet this very apartness induces an almost reflexive sympathy in the viewer. Whoever this particular Human Being (2008) is, and whatever her situation, she and we are very much alike.