A bunch of bold men are grinning from ear to ear. Their unrealistic pink bodies are bare while their heads are donned with birthday party hats made out of paper. Their mouths are wide open, the inside of which is pitch black, highlighting the white teeth. Who are they, and why do they have such a big laugh?
The paintings of Yue Minjun, a Chinese artist, depict men with a big white-toothed grin. These identical-looking men bear a resemblance to the painter himself, who is also bold. Mr. Yue witnessed the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution as an elementary school student and was dispatched to an oil factory upon graduating from high school. He went to an art school later, but Tiananmen Square protests took place in the same year of his graduation. Having experienced the political and economic turbulence, the painter wanted to express criticism of society and his personal frustration in his paintings. This is how his famous self-portraits where he laughs at himself were born.
Everyone wants to live in a society where common sense exists, justice is served and freedom of expression and personal happiness are guaranteed. However, this was far from the society he was living in. A sense of frustration and hopelessness is what brings out a sneer at oneself. He chose to laugh at his helpless self, not society nor other people. It was also a smart way of avoiding censorship and pressure.
His paintings illustrate his clones who are laughing with their eyes shut, oblivious to what is happening around the world. The paintings look sad even though they are laughing. “I painted people who are happy despite being controlled by others,” he said. “This is a portrait of myself, my friends and this sad era.”Yue Minjun’s paintings reflect the reality of China with a shot of cynicism. However, there are geese in the background, which represent love and freedom. Flying geese probably represent the fact that he has not given up and hopes for a better future.