China’s art world on Friday mourned the death at age 29 of prolific and provocative photographer and poet Ren Hang. Ren was known for his stylised photographs of bold nudes. He had long struggled with depression, and challenged China’s taboo surrounding mental illness with his openness: he maintained a public blog documenting “My Depression” from June 2007 until last September, in 2013 he published a book by the same title, and presented his battle in his many poems. In late January, he posted on the microblog Weibo that his hope for this year was an early death, and on Friday he jumped from a building, Sohu.com reported.
Ren Hang currently has solo exhibitions running at Stockholm’s Fotografiska Museum (until April 2) and Amsterdam’s Foam Photography Museum (until March 12), as well as a dual show with Li Xinjian at Beijing’s KWM Artcenter (until March 2). Born in Northeastern China’s Jilin Province in 1987, and based in Beijing since age 17, Ren had 22 solo shows at venues around Asia, Europe and the US, including at Chinese underground clubs Yugong Yishan and Yuyintang—as well as a 2015 party about Chinese and Cantonese discos of the 1980s and 90s at Dada Beijing. His brief but meteoritic career spanned 85 group shows, including Paris Photo in Paris, Brussels and Los Angeles, as well as Fuck Off 2 at Holland’s Groninger Museum in 2013. He published 16 books of photography and one of his poetry. His blunt imagery also garnered renown in the fashion world, and he shot for clients including Gucci, Numero and GQ China, Modern Weekly and Vice Austria and France.
The colourfully cheeky nudes of Ren’s photographs have an undercurrent of discomfort and alienation, with the sense of dread and decay amplified in his writing. “Every time I cross a bridge, I am afraid of myself, that I will jump into the river,” Ren wrote in 2013. “I touch the stone lion that is warm from the sun, knowing ultimately it will turn cold. I know I can get through this time, but I’m not so sure about next time.”