February 1, 2019

In 1963, in Harbin, China, one of the most important dissident Chinese artists, Zhang Dali, was born. After his studies in painting in Beijing, he went to Italy for a few years, where he became acquainted with the graffiti technique. In the second half of the 1990s, his career as a dissident artist takes off effectively. In many major cities in China, hutongs (traditional Chinese residential areas) were demolished to make way for office buildings, major roads, hotels,… The residents of these residential areas were often evicted with a heavy hand and without pity. During the demolition works, Zhang Dali started spraying the contour lines of his own portrait on the walls, often with the inscription ‘AK-47’. This code name stands for the Russian machine gun, the Kalashnikov, which is often used in communist regimes. With this inscription, the artist symbolizes the violent way in which the original inhabitants were treated. Zhang Dali also painted a whole series of portraits, constructed with the continuous repetition of the code name ‘AK-47’. These faces typically represent migrant workers who moved from city to city to work as part of China’s booming economy. However, they often lived in poverty and were subject to oppression and discrimination. Zhang Dali, who has a great capacity for empathy, tries to give them a face and dignity. The same theme is representative in his ‘Chinese Offspring’ (2003-2005), a series of 100 numbered life-size plaster statues. The number symbolizes their lost identity. The fact that the sculptures are hung upside down represents their insecurity and powerlessness over their own life. The motive for his artistic career was expressed by the artist himself as follows: “I believe that humans are the product of their environment. I am concerned about the changes in our living environment that have been imposed by money and power.” Today, his work is already exhibited in various museums or included in their collection. Galleries worldwide also defend Zhang Dali’s work, which means that he is already part of many private collections.