Han Bing's Erotic Performance
Mar 24, 2010
By Ernie, www.chinaexpat.com
Ready for some titillation? Sorry, there's plenty of that on the internet without China Expat chipping in. Oh, now you're judging the suspiciously androgynous figure in the photo above. Fair enough. But do know that's Han Bing, a pioneering artist exposing us to ourselves by exposing himself - in India, no less, where urbanization churns up as much chaos as it does in China.
Last Friday, Han Bing drew a huge New Delhi crowd with a public erotic performance, clad only in a loin cloth and going to second base with construction rubble and building tools. Six Indian migrant construction workers were recruited, similarly attired like Tarzan, to hold romantic poses with construction equipment nearby.
If it reeks of exploitation, Han Bing himself grew up hand to mouth in a Jiangsu ghetto, and spent the day before learning their life stories, and telling them his own to draw them into a sense of living narrative. If it reeks of cheap publicity stunt, the performance is called Dreams of Lost Homes, the inauguration of Love in the Time of Big Construction, itself Bing's half of a dual exhibition with renegade artist Tejal Shah called A Cry from the Narrow Between.
Han's erotic act is the continuation of Mating Season, a series he has nurtured since 2001. While most of us see our old environments smashed and re-formed, shrug, then go on earning enough money to buy enough shiny things to deserve love, Han challenges us to reflect on our shifting values, and explore the connection between what we think is acceptable and shocking, real and fake, what we sacrifice of the spiritual by slipping along unreflectively in our material culture.
New Delhi's people face construction chaos as disruptive as any that may be found in Beijing or Shanghai, but their response to the performance went over smoother than it may have in the latter two cities, where scantily clad men canoodling with inanimate objects would meet much more Confucian resistance.
After viewing the performance, fruit vendor Sukhwinder Tiwary commented, "I am strangely aroused, touched, and spiritually moved." Surely Han can consider the piece a success if those outside the narrow circle of art cognoscenti get it. "I understand the message against violent urbanization, alienation, problems of migration and demolition in big cities that the artist is trying to convey. I too am a migrant to the city," said Tiwary.
Han Bing's Erotic Performance
An admittedly well-worn contemporary Chinese art genre, the perils of modernization has its boldest statement yet from Han Bing, who eroticizes tools of manual labor and the dregs of construction to represent the human cost of urbanization.
Obviously, sexual mores are up for inspection as well in Han's work, while such inspection is the main theme of Tejal Shah's half of the exhibition. In fact, ‘A Cry from the Narrow Between' draws its title from a poem by the ancient Greek, lesbian poet Sappho, for whom the "narrow between" is the fraught boundary dividing life and death, and the unbearable, unshakable state of limbo experienced in the throes of transgressive love. Her contribution offers a framework for investigating the relationship between what Freud called "Eros and the Death Drive"
"I developed the narrative from a human rights report put together by the People`s Union for Civil Liberties in Karnataka," said Shah, whose work is the first in the capital to explore sexual violence and alternative sexuality.
Shah has photographed Laxmi, a hijra, or Indian transsexual, and human rights activist based in Mumbai who has always desired to be portrayed as Cleopatra.
Southern Siren - Maheshwari is also about a hijra named Maheshwari in Mumbai, who wanted to dress up as a South Indian film star and see herself in a song and dance sequence, romancing the hero and being romanced by him in return.
In You too can touch the moon - Yashoda with Krishna, another hijra named Malini temporarily fulfills her desire to be a mother through the medium of Raja Ravi Varma's painting Yashoda with Krishna as a reference point.
Shah's graphic visuals of sexual violence and delving into the transgender realm, segues into other work with people in the shadows, marginalized by modern forces, such as an instillation based on an Israeli soldier's testimony of bull-dozing a Palestinian neighborhood. Her themes are all too relevant for China. Although obviously not what both countries' Ministries of Culture would choose for a China-India art event, Han and Shah are doing their part to forge cross-cultural understanding at the outer fringes.