“I hope my artworks will inspire people to observe the world as if through a magnifying glass, and ask, What does this alienation imply about our future as humans?”

Born 1972, Xuzhou, Jiangsu. Lives and works in Nanjing

Zhu Cunwei primarily paints animals, using an arresting mixture of realism and surrealism. But zany as his images often are, he insists he is not a satirist; instead, he says, he is motivated by “compassion”. He paints realistically to beguile viewers into accepting the scene as normal; when closer examination reveals surreal details or implications, “that makes normality seem all the more absurd”. In that respect, he adds, his art is merely following life: “Even the most normal-seeming situation may have unsuspected problems or crises behind it.” That most of Zhu Cunwei’s animals are malformed or acting abnormally reflects his view of humanity as alienated from nature. Of Alienation 1 (2011), he says: “The pig in Chinese culture is a symbol of stupidity, and red denotes lust and greed. I think many things that human beings do are stupid—it’s as if the world is being raped by stupidity.” The victim-sheep in the picture represents nature and innocence, and for Zhu Cunwei evokes dubiously ethical experiments such as the cloning and genetic manipulation of animals. “Today there is a kind of struggle between human beings and the animal world,” he says. “The more humans treat animals with indifference and cruelty, the more alienated we become from nature.”

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