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The next Ai Weiwei? Li Songsong mixes art and politics in thick layers of painting

Beijing, China – Faced with censorship, artists in China are forced to be careful about how they express themselves . Ai Weiwei knows that, but he’s not the only one.

Ai is a pioneer of the Chinese contemporary art scene, but a number of artists are also attracting world attention. Chief among them is Li Songsong, a man who has nothing shy about mixing art and politics.

Inspired by a former industrial neighborhood in Beijing known as ‘798’, Li’s canvases allude to moments in China’s recent past, bringing them to the surface once again in nebulae and thick layers of oil. From the Cultural Revolution to the 2004 National People’s Congress; Moments alive in the collective memory of the nation.

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“[He] is a great example of a very skilled painter who has a deep sensitivity for the history of China,” says Phil Tinari, director of the Ullens Contemporary Art Center in Beijing.

“He is always looking to capture unexpected images that shed new light on what for many people has been a very beaten path during the 20th century. He always uses images to subvert our understanding of history.”

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“I chose those pictures for a very simple purpose: I want to know what has happened before,” Li says, “I want to find something a little different from what we get in formal education.”

It is an approach that has allowed him to exhibit at the Saatchi Gallery, but also for which he has been censored by the Chinese government, who refused to export his portrait of Kim Jong Un last year.

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Tinari says that because contemporary art can complicate and confuse, obscuring its meaning, it is not as strongly regulated as other means. As a result of art “a little more freedom of action is allowed than other forms of expression.”

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Li is optimistic. “I think it’s a good time [in Chinese art right now],” he argues.

“Not because this generation nor the younger ones are better … [but] people [have] more opportunity to show their talent.”

“For artists in China is a very good time to learn.”

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