The nine photographs that comprise this work document a performance in which calligraphy was written on the artist’s face, eventually entirely obscuring it with black ink. As the Chinese characters cover his face, the words become illegible, forming a sea of black marks. In all nine photographs, Zhang Huan’s expression is stern, and his piercing eyes stand out amidst the black ink in the final photograph. The performance took place in a park in New York City, where Zhang lived between 1998 and 2006, and involved three calligraphers working from morning to night. The text draws from Chinese legends, physiognomy—the art of face reading—and names and stories of people Zhang knew. In this work, and in others he developed while living in New York, Zhang reflects on personal and cultural histories, and on his Chinese identity.
Zhang Huan (born 1965, Anyang) graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Henan University, Kaifeng, in 1988, and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, in 1993. Primarily working in performance, photography, and sculpture, his work addresses the conflicts of contemporary democracy and challenges oppressive political regimes. Zhang lives and works in Shanghai.