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 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

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'