Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chen Guangming in the Asia Literary Review

Coal mining in China has been prominent in the news in the last few years mostly due to the continued tragedies in the industry. However, miners in China, as I’d argue miners everywhere, are one group of workers who best symbolize that most unfashionable but stirring phrase ‘the dignity of labour’. This is true in China I think whether they work in the newer modern mines as mining professionals or the illegal pits where they take terrible chances to feed their families.

The Winter issue of the Asia Literary Review has a series of remarkable and poignant portrait paintings of Chinese miners by Chen Guangming. They are extremely striking and, while I’m not sure I’d want one hanging on the wall reminding me of how tough life is for some compared to me, they do make you stop and think about work, struggle, life and the dignity of the working class. Again of course none of this is fashionable in the era of asset stripping hedge fund managers and Bernie Madoff but I’m old school about such things.

The artist, Chen Guangming, hails from Inner Mongolia and studied at the Central Institute of Fine Art in China. He is now based in Peking. He apparently follows the ‘one exact brushstroke school’ with no reworking which makes the detail of the portraits even more remarkable.

In the Asia Literary Review he has also written a commentary to accompany his portraits of the miners which focuses on their working conditions, low incomes and sadly their meagre status in society where they are too often looked down on as unskilled while believe it or not people who work for McKinsey are considered highly skilled geniuses!! As they used to say about taxi drivers in Shanghai in the 1930s who looked down on rickshaw pullers – I met a lot of rickshaw pullers who could drive a taxi but rarely a taxi driver would last long pulling a rickshaw! In other words when the office lights go out because the power station’s got no coal who you going to call? – McKinsey!!

To see more of Chen’s portraits see the Asia Literary Review or the Wellington Gallery’s web site from Hong Kong.


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