Portrait of China’s rural society

He Jinwei

Despite their young and childlike features, the two larger-than-life girls offer us no sense of playfulness or even naivete. The Chinese artist He Jinwei, born in 1967, depicts his sitters with an austere character, oscillating between melancholic and disillusioned. One girl looks right at us with her tired eyes, telling us of her exhaustion. The other turns away with the corners of her mouth pressed together and pointing downward–she appears hardened. Both sit in front of a background that does not suggest any context, bringing their facial expressions even further into focus. Yet they are not anonymized or portrayed as stereotypes, as is the case in the prominent portraits of “Cynical Realism” by Fang Lijun.

He Jinwei lets the girls tell their individual stories of life in rural China. They narrate a struggle within the precarious conditions of the working class and the simultaneous challenges of globalization, finding themselves caught between two worlds of tradition and modernity. Their clothes are peppered with English catch phrases while they don the red cloth of communism. Nothing can tell where the next societal shift will take these children or whether the promises made by global capitalism will be delivered upon.

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