Zhang Huan Pandemic Diary and Art News of the Week 8 – 14 June

Zhang Huan's Pandemic Diary

The latest body of work by Zhang Huan is a direct response to his experience of the pandemic. The statue of a slave trader was removed from outside a London museum. A group of Hong Kong artists will launch “Silence is Compliance”, a new online project. The Rubens House in Antwerp has a recently rediscovered Rubens self-portrait. Street artist Banksy shared a proposal for what should replace a statue of Edward Colston.

Pioneering Artist Zhang Huan Reveals His Pandemic Diary: ‘Death Is My Lover!’

Shanghai • June 10, 2020 • Via artnews.com


Zhang Huan is a renowned Chinese artist based in Shanghai and New York. His latest work focuses on his experience of the pandemic. Zhang, who is debuting with a new series of paintings, has been keeping a diary of the pandemic that appears below. In it, he describes reading news stories about the coronavirus and seeking spiritual balance in the meantime.

“Death is my lover! Every time I went to Tibet, my mind became delusional, and I started to have strong hallucinations. Tibet is intoxicating! Maybe it was the geography of the Tibetan plateau? I yearned for a sky burial, which is my mysterious garden. And I dreamed of countless vultures taking my body and soul, flying high in the blue sky!”

“The process of dying, which comes between breaths, is a revolution of 49 days, a reincarnation! During this period, a person will experience the trajectory from death to birth, undergo a process of cause and effect, go through uncertain reincarnation, and, finally, obtain rebirth.”

This is one of the stories that moved Zhang Huan during the pandemic:

“Weng Qiuqiu, a 32-year-old, pregnant woman in Huanggang, Hubei, felt unwell on January 8. After visiting multiple hospitals, she was finally examined, and it was discovered that both of her lungs appeared unusually white in her X-rays. After beginning medical treatment on January 10, she entered the ICU at the daily cost of RMB 50,000 to 60,000 ($7,100 to $8,500). After she borrowed more than RMB 200,000 ($28,000) for her medical care, her condition still didn’t improve, and on January 21 her husband, Chen Yong, finally signed a consent form, agreeing to cease medical support of Weng Qiuqiu. An hour later, she died—only twelve days from the onset of her symptoms. This suggests that she could not afford to waste any time in obtaining a diagnosis for COVID-19. On January 22, the government announced that treatment for the new coronavirus would be free.”

London removes a slave trader’s statue

London • June 10, 2020  • Via euronews.com

A statue of slave owner Robert Milligan was removed from its plinth in east London on June 9, 2020. - Copyright Flickr
A statue of slave owner Robert Milligan was removed from its plinth in east London on June 9, 2020. – Copyright Flickr

If you were a slave trader in another century and there is still a statue or monument to you in some city in the world, it is time to say goodbye to that recognition because you no longer have a place in today’s world. One of these statues was removed on June 9, 2020, from a museum in London. Following this event, the city authorities announced a review of an issue that concerns them. How historic monuments and sites should represent the most worrying part of England’s history.

It is a concern in today’s world about the debate on how these kinds of monuments or statues do not represent today’s society and are not inclusive. This issue has been on the move for years but has intensified since the death of African-American George Floyd on May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis, USA.

The statue removed on June 9, 2020, from the Docklands Museum in London belonged to Robert Milligan. A few days earlier, the effigy of Edward Colston, another slave trader, was torn from its base and thrown into a river in Bristol by anti-racist protesters.

Floyd’s death sparked widespread protests in the U.S. against police violence and racism. These have quickly spread to Europe, where protesters have acted against monuments that have a direct link to colonialism and slavery.

Robert Milligan was a Scottish slave trader who owned two sugar plantations and 526 slaves in Jamaica. The London Museum said Milligan’s statue had “remained uncomfortable” for a long time outside its premises in Tower Hamlets in East London.

Hong Kong artists are launching a pro-democracy platform

Hong Kong • June 09, 2020 • Via artforum.com

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo/Flickr.
Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo/Flickr.

On June 12 a group of artists, curators and researchers from different parts of the world such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and Hong Kong launched “Silence is Compliance”, a new online project during which it was another anniversary of a large-scale protest for democracy in Hong Kong,

On the project’s Facebook page you can read the following text: “When the act of remembering can be a sin, the freedoms of expression and publication are seriously threatened, this platform creates the precious space to send the message once again, loud and clear, we are with Hong Kong as artists, researchers, writers from different parts of the world, power to the people”.

The aim of this slogan is to help understand the mass demonstrations that have taken place in Hong Kong since the proposal of the extradition bill last year. This is done to encourage the international arts community to support the region when it faces a new, comprehensive national security law that will restrict Hong Kong’s political and civil liberties.

Young Blood is a collaborative initiative operating in Amsterdam, Berlin and London founded by Candy Choi. This community has created “We Are HKers” a bilingual website run by a team of artists, journalists, photographers and other cultural producers inspired by the “Humans of New York” project; and Zine Coop, a Hong Kong publishing collective.

The platform aims to present different angles of the social movement, but Choi is concerned that those who offer to participate in “Silence is Compliance” will not be able to return to Hong Kong once the new security law is in place.

Rubens House in Antwerp presents new Peter Paul Rubens self-portrait

Antwerp • June 11, 2020 • Via artdaily.com

Rubens, Self-portrait, ca. 1604, in langdurig bruikleen Rubenshuis, particuliere verzameling, Photo: Ans Brys.
Rubens, Self-portrait, ca. 1604, in langdurig bruikleen Rubenshuis, particuliere verzameling, Photo: Ans Brys.

There is a remarkable new exhibition at the House of Rubens in Antwerp. It features a recently rediscovered self-portrait of Rubens. This work which was painted in Italy has become the first known individual self-portrait by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and the second presentation in the museum’s permanent exhibition, which was once the artist’s residence in Antwerp.

This first known individual self-portrait by Rubens was a preparatory study for an important commission he received during his stay at the Gonzaga court in the city of Mantua in northern Italy. This commission consisted of the decoration of the Capella Maggiore in the Jesuit church of that Italian city.

Rubens was hired as a painter at the Gonzaga court shortly after arriving in Italy, but it took him four years to get a really important commission. He painted three large canvases for the Jesuit church between 1604 and 1605: The Gonzaga Family Worshipping the Trinity, The Baptism of Christ, and The Transfiguration.

Rubens included himself in the central scene because he felt honored by such commission. This scene shows the Gonzaga family worshipping the Holy Trinity. Rubens immortalized himself by incorporating his own image into the painting. A “visual signature” that served as a calling card for the young artist.

These works were removed from the church by Napoleon’s troops at the beginning of the 19th century and are now scattered in various European museums. Rubens’ self-portrait has also been lost and the great central work has been cut out and now only survives in a fragmentary and amorphous state.

In spite of all this, the preliminary study has been preserved and now becomes the fifth self-portrait identified by Rubens, the second on display at the Casa de Rubens. The preparatory self-portrait has recently resurfaced and has been attributed to Rubens once again by Ben van Beneden and Arnout Balis.

Banksy shared a proposal to replace the Edward Colston statue protestors brought down in Bristol.

Bristol • June 11, 2020 • Via artsy.net

Image credit: Banksy
Image credit: Banksy

On June 7, a large manifestation by the anti-racist group U.K. Black Lives Matter in Bristol removed a statue from its base in the city center and brought it to the nearby port. The statue belonged to a 17th-century slave trader named Colston. He was responsible for the transport of over 80,000 people enslaved between 1672 and 1689. Street artist Banksy shared a proposal to replace the Edward Colston statue that was removed by the protesters.

Banksy, who is a native of Bristol, went to his Instagram to ask this question: “What should we do with the empty baseboard in the middle of Bristol? Here’s an idea that satisfies those who miss the Colston statue as much as those who don’t. We take it out of the water, put it back in the baseboard, we tie wire around its neck, and order some life-size bronze statues of the protesters in the act of tearing it down. Everybody’s happy. It’s a famous day.”

This proposal has received more than 1 million visits so far and the response to the artist’s proposal has been very positive. The removal of the statue was triggered by the protests of George Floyd. Banksy also recently published a new painting inspired by George Floyd’s death; he shared a statement along with that work that deals with what he called a “flawed system”.


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