SHOK 1 – CENSORED IN CHINA
Having blazed a searing trail in China for the last few years, Shok 1 was invited back this month to be presented with a suitably sized slice of blank wall and asked by the authorities and an architectural firm alike to pour his energy and imagination into it. Whatever our preconceptions of Chinese attitudes to free expression, nothing in his previous experience of painting in China had prepared him for the brewing storm of all powerful mediocrity that was about to engulf his latest work. As the final precision touches were applied, the word dropped down from the labyrinthine corridors of bureaucratic control - the work was unacceptable to official sensibilities and would be destroyed within days.
Now the obvious reaction would be – well look – it’s red and there’s a bloody metal noose on it – this is China after all – what did he expect?
And that would be to entirely miss the point – apart from the fact that he’s been painting metal nooses for a decade, and the symbolism of red in China goes way beyond any recent relationship with communism, if you want a pliable artist to produce ‘nice’ work for the local dignitaries to stand in front of and congratulate themselves on their cultural munificence – ya don’t fucking get a purist like Shok in to do it.
Equally though – Shok’s far too long in the tooth and way too complex an artist to clodhop down the courting controversy for its own sake road – the themes and symbolism of the picture themselves are entirely irrelevant to the principle in play here. You get an artist over who you have done some level of research on before setting the process in motion, hand him a giant wall and assure him of his creative freedom, then the second he’s finished – blithely inform him of its imminent destruction. Speaking of themes and symbolism – heart shaped noose anyone - talk about the painting prophesising and keeping up a running commentary on it’s fate.
It’s unacceptable to hide behind the – ‘This is China – obviously gonna censor it innit’ argument. Art simply cannot be stuffed kicking and screaming into whatever design a power structure may want it to fit – what was the logic here – let’s get an uncompromising artist to paint in our country cos that’ll show how open we are – oh shit he’s not compromising – better strip it away before anyone notices.’
Censorship is censorship – thanks to the camera being potentially mightier than the censor’s pen in today’s world – the photos are out – and by helping circulate the photos and getting the imagery and the story behind it out – we can help dissolve the power of censorship away make a mockery of this clumsy bid for suppression. A week ago – this painting – no matter how you read it was evidence of how far China has come – today – it’s evidence of how far China hasn’t come and the imagery itself has taken on an altogether darker significance.
We have huge respect for Shok here at LSD – please read our detailed and in depth interview with him in Issue 7