Remembering The Life And Work Of Chinese Provocateur Ren Hang

Hang passed away early this morning at the age of 30, according to early reports and posts online from those close to him.


The Chinese photographer Ren Hang, best known for his surrealistic images of naked young models in provocative poses, has died, according to the publisher Taschen, which recently published his first monograph.


The news came in earlier today when several of those close to Hang posted online about his death, including publisher Pierre Bessard and Dries Roelens of Antwerp-based gallery Stieglitz 19, where Hang’s work is being shown. The Dutch paper DeMorgen has reported that the cause of death was suicide based on confirmation from “entourage sources,” but it has not been corroborated elsewhere.

[Photo: via @renhangrenhang/Instagram]

Over the past few years, Ren Hang’s photographs that tackled subjects like gender and sexuality have gained a large following in the Western world even as they are condemned in his native China. Like his friend and contemporary Ai Weiwei, Hang was frequently censored by the Chinese government, even though he long maintained his work had no political context. In a 2013 interview with Taschen editor Dian Hanson, Hang said, “I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context, or political context. I don’t intentionally push boundaries, I just do what I do.”

Still, a strict Chinese crackdown on pornography and nudity in public made it difficult for him to make and show his art in his home country, and he had been arrested several times. “My photos, especially the ones of naked bodies, are forbidden to be shown in Chinese galleries,” he told Vice in a 2013 article. “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. And those are just a couple of examples of the problems I’ve had. None of China’s press will publish my books and I’ve been arrested while shooting photos outside before.”

In interviews, Hang often asserted that there is no deeper meaning, and nothing explicitly sexual, beyond the visual aspect of in his work. He often created abstract shapes with the bodies of his models, and favored bizarre props and unconventional settings. His work had appeared in galleries worldwide, as well as in ads for Gucci and Maison Kitsuné.

Ren had written and talked about his struggles with depression. According to early news reports, he passed away early this morning in Berlin. He was 30 years old.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.