XingXing or Stars

Wang Keping, Femme Allongée AP WK16, 2010

They thought that every artist was a Star and so they called themselves the Stars.

In 1979, after a decade marked by the Cultural Revolution, a political initiative aimed at strengthening the absolute power of Mao Zedong, a group of young artists XingXing held their first exhibition in one of the parks in Beijing.

Vigorous fighters for freedom of expression, these young self-made artists managed to defend their right to be exposed, despite the social oppression and harsh censorship. Their very first exhibition attracted attention of thousands of people across communistic China. In the society where for decades the authorities were continuously propagating class struggle, and where any freethinking immediately provoked stiff reaction, XingXing artists commenced talking about individuality and the right to be the one you want to be.

China’s communist authorities did not expect that people – workers, the military, and ordinary peasants, who were aspiring to realize communist ideals, would have seriously accepted art of these young artists. However, it happened. Moreover, the activities of the Stars influenced many young people and inspired them to dare and give their voices for reforms and more liberal society.

Today The Stars are considered pioneers of the Chinese avant-garde. Their art was not limited to sculpture and painting, they have used all available means to express their ideas. Group members not only exhibited their works, but also held meetings and discussions arranged to comment on and criticize the Chinese political and social systems of those days.

Huang Rui, 1988
Huang Rui, 1988

Although almost all the artists were self-taught, they succeeded in their intent, perhaps because they were truly driven by the desire of changes and faith in success. The general concept at the heart of their artistic works lied in their own understanding of the mission of art, which was to reflect the values and needs, and strivings of masses without any regard to political ideology.

In 1980 the Stars finally received official recognition, after having reorganized themselves to the Stars Painters Society. It was the first time the artists could officially show their works in China Art Gallery. However, this did not relieve the pressure XingXing experienced from the authorities. Indeed, already in 1983, only four years after their first exhibition, the group had to disband itself.

Among former members of the group Ai Weiwei is, probably, the best known in the West. While many of his former colleagues left their homeland, Ai Weiwei, despite constant pressure from the Chinese authorities, lives and continues working in today’s China. Even after the Stars ceased its activities, Ai Weiwei continued its traditions of political criticism towards the Chinese government. He is also actively engaged in launching human rights campaigns all around the world. His latest initiative in collaboration with Anish Kapoor – a march across London, – sought to attract world’s attention to the urgent issue of migration.

Other former XingXing members continued their artistic careers as well. Although their works do not provoke such social and political resonance as those of Ai Weiwei, they still enjoy acclaim in China and around the world. Among the most recent events, where we could contemplate the evolution of former Stars was an amazing exhibition organized by Magda Danysz Gallery, Paris, that encompassed sculptural works of Wang Keping and Ma Desheng. Nowadays, they both dedicate their creative effort to uncover the man and his intimate feelings.

Despite the short period of existence, the group Stars significantly influenced the formation and further development of contemporary art in China. The enthusiasm of its members and the struggle for freedom of expression and art allowed China to maintain the potential for the development of modern art, which was almost completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

Pictures: Artsy

Natalia Barinova