Chinese art star Yue brings ‘laughing men’ to Europe

Updated 15 November 2012
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Chinese art star Yue brings ‘laughing men’ to Europe

The painted grins are stretched so wide they seem to hurt. And that is pretty much what Yue Minjun intended, the Chinese artist explained at the Paris opening of his first major show in Europe.
A former electrician turned contemporary artist, Yue shot to international attention in 1999 when his signature laughing-man self-portraits made a much-noted eruption at the Art Biennale in Venice.
“If I paint laughter it is because I feel pain toward human life,” the 50-year-old, one of China’s most bankable art figures, told AFP through an interpreter. “I found a comical way to express something tragic.” Where does this sense of tragedy come from? “It’s first and foremost a perception of human life. But it’s also a feeling toward the world we live in,” he offered.
Clothed in black, his head smooth, Yue confessed to feeling “a little anxious and shy” at the sight of the four dozen paintings and 100-odd sketches that went on show Wednesday at the Fondation Cartier, where they will remain to March 17.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen so many of my works displayed at the same time,” he told AFP. “It’s also the first time I get to examine myself.”
“I spotted quite a few clumsy touches in my paintings,” he quipped. “I said to myself I must be one of those painters who does not know how to hide. I say things in a direct and simple way.”
Yue’s cartoon-like characters are cast in contorted poses, or scenes that reference the cultural revolution, like the 2000 “Memory 4,” where a crowd of people inside a man’s skull tout what looks like Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book.
“Sunrise,” painted in 1998, features a crowd of laughing faces lifted toward the rising sun.
“A lot of visual memories stem from my childhood,” he explained. “It was the socialist experience.
When I was a child, a great many works used to depict happy people, full of confidence, living an ideal life.” Other works reference the European art canon, such as the 1995 “The Execution,” inspired by Goya and Manet, in which both the half-naked victims and gunmen are bent with laughter in front of what look like the walls of Beijing’s Forbidden City.Seen as one of his most political works, “The Execution” fetched 3.74 million euros ($4.76 million) at auction at Sotheby’s in London in 2007.
But the artist does not like to be described as “political.”
His critique is about culture, he says, namely the way that “in traditional Chinese civilization the individual is not important.” Born in Daqing in northeastern China, Yue grew up under the cultural revolution, working first as an oil field electrician before enrolling to study art in 1985 in Hebei province. In 1991, he joined an artist community in a village near Beijing. Still reeling from the fallout of the Tiananmen Square massacre two years earlier, he and other artists founded a current known as “cynical realism,” now one of the most influential contemporary art movements in China.
The Fondation Cartier’s director Herve Chandes said mounting the show was a challenge, since Yue’s works are spread out across Asia, Europe and the United States — and the artist kept little trace of their whereabouts.
For the Paris show, Yue loaned around 100 preparatory sketches, which had never before been shown outside the studio he shares with a handful of assistants near Beijing.
The exhibit also features snaps of Yue, taken by his brother, which he used to paint his emblematic alter-egos. A slideshow reveals the artist dressed only in underpants, laughing and pulling faces as he lunges out at the camera lens.
Today Yue is still painting laughing men — but is also exploring new avenues, for instance in a series of portraits obtained by rubbing one canvas up against another.
“Usually paintings are passive. Here I want to make them active, I want them to do something.”
But whatever he does, Yue is not out to comfort the viewer.
“There are artists who paint calm things to bring you tranquility. I try to stimulate people with my paintings to help them find strength.”


WWE stars soften up to Jeddah children to introduce anti-bullying campaign

Updated 25 April 2018
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WWE stars soften up to Jeddah children to introduce anti-bullying campaign

  • Al-Oula is a non-profit organization targeted to break the cycle of poverty
  • WWE stars sat down in front of 30 students from the institution

Jeddah: The children of Al-Oula –- a non-profit organization targeted to break the cycle of poverty –- had the most thrilling school trip as they came to see World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstars Mojo Rawley and Mark Henry in King Abdullah stadium on Tuesday.
The stars sat down in front of 30 students from the institution and softened up as they shared stories from their childhood and introduced their anti-bullying campaign “Be a Star.”
The stars shared personal stories and the difficulties they have faced.
Dean Muhtadi, 31, better known by his ring name Mojo Rawley, told the children: “We are different in many ways but sometimes you have to focus on the similarities and positive aspects of others.”
Mark Henry, 46, opened up about his past: “When I was young people would call me names and were mean to me, so I decided to become the strongest person in the world.
“I won three world championships in three different world countries that had nothing to do with each other and I am very proud of myself for not letting the mean comments get to my head.”
Henry was world heavyweight champion, and is also a two-time Olympian and a gold medalist at the Pan American Games.
Later the children had the chance to talk directly with the stars. Rawley is originally Palestinian, so he spoke in Arabic with some of the children.
Henry told one of the students: “If someone is troubling you, don’t give them the satisfaction of letting the comments or actions affect you, and immediately tell your teacher or your parents or any adult, and they will help you through your problems.”
The children then took pictures and were given tickets to the WWE Royal Rumble show on Friday.
“Jeddah is a very family-friendly and a culture-loving city, so I love being here,” Henry told Arab News. “The only difference is the language. Apart from that everyone is very nice and warm.”
On the Royal Rumble, he said: “Get ready for the best entertainment you have ever seen with your own eyes.”
“For someone who comes from an Arab background, this is a historic achievement and it will be remembered for ever,” Rawley said in an interview with Arab News.
“When I first found out that we agreed to a ten-year partnership, it was the coolest thing to find out.
“I am very fortunate to be a part of this long-term partnership which will give the citizens a long time to understand and give us enough time to develop our brand here in Saudi Arabia.
“Last year the show in Riyadh was a small, non-televised show but it was one of the coolest experiences of my life, so I am very excited to perform in this grand-scale show. It’s going to be an amazing show. It will rival Wrestle Mania, which is the biggest event of the year.”
Jana Marwan, a nine-year-old student, said: “Everyone told us that the wrestlers were scary but they weren’t. In fact they were very friendly. They taught us how to look out for ourselves and I had so much fun. I am thankful to them.”