Born 1983, Jianyang, Fujian

An artist with a forensic eye for detail and an impish sense of humour, Cheng Mingqiang finds inspiration in the most unlikely places. His university dissertation, a 16-volume work titled Pictorial Study of Marriage Certificates in the New China (2013), explores changes in the official meanings of love and family through the iconography of marriage certificates. Mao’s revolutionaries took a special interest in marriage, the foundation of their perfect society. But after proclaiming an end to arranged marriages, they decided that since the family was a fundamental political unit, no couple could marry without Party approval. Marriage certificates in China also serve as statements of Party doctrine and visual propaganda for a population where illiteracy is widespread. Taking as examples 440 different certificates, the artist discusses every aspect of their design and content, from type and layout to patterns and imagery, in terms of historical context, political message and popular semiotics. Love Armour 2 (2012–2013) looks at the same theme from a personal angle, with twin suits of elaborately accessorised armour and a cheesy video and photographs of Chen Mingqiang’s wedding reception, in which he and his bride wear the steel suits. In Guoting Manufacturing Atlas series (2011), he combines unrelated instruments—microscopes, guns, locks, trumpets—into absurd yet oddly plausible new tools with “brand names” like Hero and Invincible.

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