Artists paint stark portraits of Chinese corruption

Mon May 2, 2011 3:11pm EDT
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By James Pomfret

SHENZHEN, China (Reuters Life!) - In a dingy studio flat in southern China, a half-naked painter dabs his brush gently over a portrait of Fu Yunsheng, a land official in northern China sentenced to death for embezzling millions.

Squatting while dragging silently on a cigarette, the artist finishes the stark, smiling portrait rendered in the reddish-pink hue of China's 100 yuan banknotes, before stapling it to a wall beside six other portraits of disgraced officials including the toppled former mayor of the southern boomtown of Shenzhen, Xu Zongheng.

"I'm a little bit afraid," said the artist, surnamed Tang, of his participation in the daring but as yet underground art project to paint several thousand portraits of government officials prosecuted for graft in recent years.

The stark, monochromatic portraits, painted by a team of artists in Shenzhen's Dafen village -- known for its mass-produced knock-offs of iconic Western paintings -- are the brainchild of outspoken artist and film-maker Zhang Bingjian.

"I was shocked," said Zhang, who based the concept on the wall-lined portraits of basketball legends in the NBA Hall of Fame in the United States, and has seen the number of portraits of jailed officials steadily climb to over one thousand.

"I never thought there could be that many corrupt officials in China."

He has collected the names of more than 2,500 officials.

Through the years, China's leaders have repeatedly cautioned of the risks of endemic graft, including a sharp warning from Premier Wen Jiabao that a yawning wealth gap and graft could stoke public discontent at a time of rising inflation.   Continued...

<p>A portrait of disgraced official Lin Qingle, former vice general manager of Beijing Urban Construction Group Company, hangs on a wall with other portraits for Chinese artist and film-maker Zhang Bingjian's "Hall of Fame" project in his studio in Beijing April 22, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Lee</p>