Update 3/10/2019: Roughly two years since the artist’s death, the MEP in Paris has launched the posthumous exhibition “Love, Ren Hang.” Through a largely chromatic approach, the show presents 150 photographs touching on his use of red and acid colors, night shoots, and his controversial works focused on the body, creating a link between eroticism and nature.
A month shy of 30, Chinese photographer Ren Hang has taken his own life, according to friends and colleagues. Though unconfirmed, depression is likely the cause.
Raised in China’s industrial Jilin province, the self-taught photographer has been likened to Ryan McGinley, Nan Goldin, and Larry Clarke for his controversial images of nude young men and women in playful, provocative poses.
His work pushed the envelope — especially in conservative China — with explicit sexuality and queerness. “I don’t want others having the impression that Chinese people are robots with no cocks or pussies,” he said. Pornography is illegal on the mainland and Ren was frequently detained by police and arrested.
“My photos, especially the ones of naked bodies, are forbidden to be shown in Chinese galleries,” Hang recently told Vice. “Only occasionally can the ones that aren’t explicit be shown, but I still face many difficulties even with them. For example, one of my shows was cancelled by the Chinese government on ‘suspicion of sex’ and, another time, a visitor spat at one of my photos. None of China’s press will publish my books and I’ve been arrested while shooting photos outside.”
In recent years, though, Ren found an international audience and gallery representation at Klein Sun in New York. “Today we mourn the loss of Ren Hang, a talented and rising young photographer who passed away well before his time,” Eli Klein wrote on Instagram.
While Ren demurred about his sexuality in the media, those close to him say he identified as a gay man. “He wouldn’t want it to be hidden or ambiguous as to his sexual preferences,” continued Eli Klein. “It would be doing him a disservice to not now be finally honest with how he identified himself.”