Sheng Qi: 'Cutting off my finger was my proudest moment'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Chinese artist Sheng Qi committed an act of physical protest during the Tiananmen Square massacre. He tells Emily Jupp it is still his proudest moment

Dissident Chinese artist Sheng Qi is less recognisable than his peer Ai Weiwei, but his work is just as subtly provocative. 

In 1989, in protest at the Tiananmen Square massacre he chopped off his little finger and buried it in a porcelain flowerpot in Beijing.

Some of of his work focuses on replicating this act of anger and defiance, while other works subvert stereotypical images of Chinese power and propaganda. He now lives and works in London.

I am most proud of when I was mad and out of control...and I cut off my finger. It was about 10 years later when I finally realised - so after I had many years of art training - that my left hand, without the finger, has become part of my identity, it is a unique performance. In 1999 I started taking photos of my hand. I realised the personal history can also be the social history.

I'm recovered now, because time can cure everything. Before I started exhibiting images of my hand I was always hiding and I would always put it in my pocket. But when I decided to show it to people there was no more nervous feeling, no more hiding.

When I cut off my finger, I felt betrayed. It’s like you know someone for 20 years then one day you discover he’s a total liar. It’s like the church falling down. You don’t know what to believe, you are totally...you feel like killing yourself, because everything you believed before is just worthless. Life feels worthless.

To recover from my madness, I went to the countryside. I learnt Tai Chi for a couple of months. It’s very peaceful. No-one can influence you and you can’t hear any voice, only the voice from inside, and it helps you to start again.

My work has always been controversial. People either like it or feel uncomfortable... My work is not for entertainment. It is not to give comfortable feelings and pleasures.  My work is always like a protest, like a double-edged sword, pointing in both directions - with an  international outlook and also at problems in China.

After Mao died, the Chinese moved forward to focus on economics. So the Chinese currency, which is strong, has become one of the major ways to show the country's power. But the Chinese people are still living in poverty and suffering, so this is the issue I am focusing on in my current exhibition. Premier Weng and Vice-Premier Deng and Jackie Chan and sports star Yao Ming are all shown holding the Chinese currency in my portraits, like a Chinese fan.

The red colour I use in the paintings signifies a warning. Chinese people are poor, they have a lack of social care, lack of education, accommodation. The form of my painting is also like a poster...the poster is like propaganda period...even now, it’s a propaganda country so my painting in a way is like that a propaganda presentation, so basically I use what they used and reflect that back.

Ai Weiwei. He is a very powerful man. I painted him with a red background... He is in danger, it could happen any day...he is willing to do that, to take the danger, so I respect him.

I have started working on paper now, just for the last couple of months. Paper is more soft, I use it with pencil and watercolour. When you get old, you do different things, your physical body is not passionate, it has less energy. I never touched paper before, it was always a larger canvas, or performance art. But now it becomes smaller and lighter.

Sheng Qi's first ever solo London show, "Post Mao" runs from now until 20 December 2012 at Hua Gallery, Unit 7B, G/F, Albion Riverside, 8 Hester Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4AX

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones