Year of the bare: China revealed as never before

The photographs take us on a tour of iconic events from contemporary Chinese history.

There is a burnt-out Rem Koolhaas-designed hotel in downtown Beijing, a guesthouse where a waitress stabbed a government official who tried to rape her, and the capital's Bird's Nest Olympic stadium. What sets these pictures apart is the nude figure doing push-ups in the foreground.

The bizarre juxtaposition, a cheeky take on contemporary China, is the work of Guangzhou artist Ou Zhihang. His series, The Moment, a historical record with added nude, has just been honoured in the World Press Awards.

"As a creative artist, I wanted to express myself differently," said a fully clothed Mr Ou at his gallery in Beijing. "Press-ups are my artistic symbol."

His photographs are popular in China. Beijing Youth Daily, one of the country's biggest newspapers, ran a photograph of Mr Ou doing nude press-ups outside the Forbidden City, in the deep snow on Tiananmen Square. He believes he is the first naked man to feature on the front page.

One of the striking things about the images is how few people, other than himself, feature. They make a serious point about the role of the individual in the world's most populous country.

While American artist Spencer Tunick uses hundreds of nude volunteers in public spaces, Mr Ou's work is more about individuals in the face of power structures.

"I'm not an exhibitionist. The press-ups are positive and healthy and very sincere. My work is all about the body so I decided the press-up was the most appropriate way," he said.

Despite appearing nude, he says he is shy; and taking photographs only from behind meant he could hide his face and keep the pictures tastefully discreet.

Some images tackle controversial issues. They include one taken in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on the anniversary of the riots in March 2008, another outside a courtroom in Chongqing during a crackdown on the mafia, and a third in front of the Chinese Football Association's headquarters, which has been mired in a corruption scandal.

"The Moment is about contemporary China. The 21st century is seen as the China century, and that's why I chose to do it in this way."

Mr Ou, who previously worked as a fashion photographer, admits that he has "some concerns" about getting into trouble. "But I'm glad I live in these days, because 15 or 20 years ago I might have been in jail. I feel very lucky the way my work can be communicated in my country today. Some people are afraid to face facts but it's necessary to show them regardless of whether they are constructive or destructive. If people understand what I'm doing, then I hope they can accept this."

When he works, he sets up a tripod, strips off quickly, uses the timer to take a photograph, and is soon gone. It's still a tough task. One of the photographs shows Mr Ou outside an illegal brick kiln where hundreds of young men were kept as slaves in 2007. "I had to check the exact location of the kiln, and get in and out quick, because if the locals found me, they might have beaten me to death," he said.

In some cases, such as when he was trying to take a photograph outside the Google headquarters this week, the security guards were initially sceptical. When he showed them some of his less controversial photographs, they were still nonplussed – but eventually they came around and he got the shots.

"Chinese people, sometimes even if they cannot understand, they can accept things," he said.

As well as his work as an artist, Mr Ou is a producer and presenter on a fashion show on Guangdong TV. "Contemporary art is very important, but a lot of art is very expensive and is only enjoyed by a small group of people.

"I want to make a wider impact on society, to go beyond a small circle," said Mr Ou.

"This is why I do my press-ups."

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style

Between the 25-27th of July, Earls Courts’ gloomy interior was doused in shades of bubblegum and parma violets as it played host to Hyper Japan, the venue’s annual celebration of anime, art, Kawaii street fashion and everything that encompasses the term J-culture. Bursting with Japanese pop culture and infused with Asian street food Hyper Japan is an invigorating culture shock that brings cosplayers, creatives and gamers like myself from across the globe.

Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star