My father, who lived through the Cultural Revolution, once told me: ‘Only scientists and artists can tell the truth.’  I’ve always remembered that.

Born 1984, Wulagai, Inner Mongolia

The strangeness and vague menace of Zong Ning’s inkjet-printed performance-photo-paintings reflect his view of the world as “mysterious and scary, much worse than the figures in my work.” Deep down, he believes, most people share that view, which is why they identify with his bizarrely posed subjects—faces obscured to eliminate individuality, naked because “without clothes, we are all the same”, and set in front of walls that represent “personal and social obstacles”. If Zong Ning’s scenes of greed, grief and desperation seem nightmarish, it is only because they prod at nerves we prefer to keep numb, he says: “Our society is very materialistic and does not value truth. People see only what they want to see.”  The rawness of his works is a declaration of sincerity in an art market where “hardly any artworks are made with the heart”. It is reinforced by his monochrome palette, deliberately chosen because it is “simple and basic”. Infernal though his scenes appear, the artist—a student of Buddhism and Daoism—intends them to convey spiritual values, which “are worth much more than sports cars or apartments”.

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