b.1966, Xi’an, Shaanxi

The shapes of the panels in 100 Years of Repose (2011) mimic those of the 15th-century Ghent Altarpiece, by the van Eyck brothers. Yu Hong says she has learned much from religious art, but she does not believe in God. Her vision is entirely humanistic, and far from hopeful. Her corpse-like subjects—painted from pictures she found online—are victims of China’s epidemic of “sleeping sickness”. The pressures of modern life are so exhausting, Yu Hong says, that people nod off wherever they can find a few minutes and a little space: on trains, footpaths, benches, on beds in furniture stores, under parked trucks. “People are tired and anxious,” she explains. “The pace of change is so fast and we can’t see where it’s going—all that is certain is death.” Unlike the gold in Christian art, which represents the glory of God and the light of heaven, the golden ground her subjects lie on, or are sinking in, is to Yu Hong a metaphor for “power and wealth”. The title of the work comes from a popular song, “The Great Wall Will Never Fall”, which starts: “Chinese people have been sleeping for 100 years; it is time to wake up.” The economy may be booming, the artist says, “but for me, China is still asleep.”

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