“The events of 1989 continue to be an immense nightmare pressing on China, and I am yet to be rid of my ‘1989 complex’.”

Born 1970, Nanchang, Jiangxi. Lives and works in Nanjing

China today is more concerned with getting ahead than with remembering ugly truths. But Zhou Zixi fears that if the past is not squarely faced and openly acknowledged, it is much more likely to be repeated. He was profoundly affected by the events of June 1989 in Tiananmen Square, and it upsets him that despite their “enormous impact” on the nation, those events and their implications are already fading in popular memory thanks to censorship, fear, and a relentless focus on the future. The whited-out canvas of Dawn—Light Fog (2009) presents this idea literally: the scenes that not so long ago filled TV screens around the world are all but invisible, and the infamous line of tanks has faded to a few faint streaks. “After a long time has passed,” Zhou Zixi says, “when we look back down the road we’ve travelled, our suffering, no matter how great, becomes blurry and distant.” His Xiaogang Caves series (2014–) was conceived as a series, he says, “a kind of movie”. It presents an invented locale similar to the grottoes where, centuries ago, images of deities were carved into the stone. Zhou Zixi replaces these with what appear to be prisoners in Communist workers’ dress, herded like cattle, lined up as if before firing squads, or hanged. In Xiaogang Caves 025 (2015), the whole area is covered by vegetation. Do the horrors depicted in the rest of the series lie in the past, or in the future?

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