A portrait of China's one child policy

Li Tianbing has acheived critical acclaim across Europe, China and the US and now he is launching an exhibition in the UK, launching next week, which attacks China's one-child policy

Saturday 10 March 2012 11:00 GMT

My story is about a lonely generation growing up in 1970s China. In my photos I imagine a childhood with brothers and sisters although in reality I had none.

I always go to villages in the south of China, in the mountains, because that's the only place where I can find what I saw in my childhood. It is unaffected by urbanisation. I went back to Guilin, the place of my childhood first of all. I went to the place where the hospital was and the school - but all these buildings disappeared. It’s a place I don’t remember. So I create a different context in my paintings.

I think the big problem in China with the one child policy is not economic or political but between people. It will lead to a big crisis in the future. It makes China totally different from what it was before. China is a global powerhouse today because its economy is based on a lot of people but this will become expensive for the society to develop. But in the paintings I just want to speak about my own experience.

I use a photographic style, because it's like a reflection and I'm holding a mirror up to society. The paintings are based on black and white photos of me as a child and I've added in imaginary siblings. To get the images of other children, apart from myself, I took photos of children today, so there are overlapping time periods in my painting - my childhood and theirs. It is talking about China today in an artistically obscure way.

My mother and father's generation had 10 children. Growing up we didn't know what it meant - this one child rule. It was only later that I realised it made a big difference between us and other generations and also between China and other countries.

The exhibition depicts mainly boys. This is relevant to the one child policy because all people want to just have a boy. There are 112 boys to every 100 girls so you see this is a big problem.

As children we had only the government newspaper and that was the only way to understand what was happening outside of ourselves. I included that in one painting - Inversed China's Daily - because I want to talk about how the media influences the young. We have more different newspapers today. That's why I made the papers 'inverse'. We feel bored by the official newspaper. It is always written in the same style, so now we try to read the news by the internet or by other mediums and there’s the challenge for the old newspaper’s influence.

The exhibition, 'LC Body and Me and My Brother' , by Li Tianbing, opens 15 March, at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and runs until 21 April 2012

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