A man and woman and their child look stoically at the camera. There are red stains on their slightly out of focus, enlarged, elongated faces. What are they trying to tell us? I took a photo of this art piece in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney Australia five years ago. I was living in Hong Kong at the time and was intrigued by this strange depiction of a Chinese family. I always meant to find out more about this work. Now I have. Beijing artist Zhang Xiaogang has created a whole series of pieces in this style. They were inspired by family photos taken during the Cultural Revolution, a time when personal identity was erased in favour of collectivism.
On the surface, the faces in these portraits appear stoic, but in an interview, Xiaogang said that underneath, each family member is experiencing great emotional turbulence due no doubt to the hardships of the revolution. Although the characters are posed in a classic photo studio shot and the work looks like a photograph it is actually a painting.
The family members are nameless. The red marks on their faces could be birthmarks or perhaps marks of ageing on the film. The artwork reflects the one-child policy instigated during the Cultural Revolution in China. This work is part of the series called Bloodline: Big Family. You can read more about it here.