Chinese Artist Zhang Bingjian has embarked on an artistic project to promote transparency in China and Chinese government. His motivation? Discovering the extent of the corruption going on in his country. Zhang told the Toronto Star: “The chief prosecutor announced that 3,000 officials had been convicted for corruption in a single year. I remember being shocked, a little angry and then confused.”
Since that day, Zhang has been working a series of portraits of these officials. The project currently boasts over 1,000 portraits, with many more still to come. "We don’t know yet whether this project will have a happy or a tragic ending,” he says, reflectively. For now, some are just calling it the 'Hall of Shame.'
Those in Zhang's 'Hall of Shame' are only those who have been officially convicted, and he says, “I’m not the bureau of corruption, not the police, not a court. I’m a citizen and an artist. But I do feel I have a responsibility to raise my voice, raise questions and record history.”
The portraits themselves are painted by 20 artists from the southern village of Dafen, a place known for producing around 60% of the world's oil paintings, generally knock-offs of famous pieces of Western art. Zhang isn't aiming to glorify these corrupt officials in art; rather, he "want[s] to paint these officials in a tacky way."
And so every painting in the series is created on a 50-by-60 centimeter canvas, produced in what is essentially an assembly line, Zhang's nod to China's cheap export-driven economic boom. The pink color of the paintings is the hue of China's 100 yuan bill, the largest denomination of currency in China. And according to the Toronto Star , "The spine of each canvas comes with a serial number, the official’s name, his title, his crime and the sentence received."
China's government has been subject to considerable scrutiny for suspected corruption, and according to Reuters, "Anti-corruption group Transparency International now ranks China 78th out of 178 countries in its corruption perception index, worse than countries like Romania, Turkey and Rwanda."
Though his work hasn't yet been displayed, Zhang is hopeful that his Hall of Fame will soon reach a wider audience, and also for a brighter future in China.
Zhang said of the project: "It can grow bigger or it can grow smaller. It depends on what the future looks like. The day that this artwork is finished is the day that we have no more corrupt officials."