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Han Mengyun at Art Basel ’22

Author: Sequin Ou Jun,2022

Han Mengyun, born in Wuhan in 1989, is an artist currently based in London. Han’s work presents a high degree of integration of multiculturalism, literature and philosophy, reflecting a critical observation and understanding of the reality of contemporary society. Trained as a painter both in China and the US, Han balances the opacity and painterliness of the Western aesthetic tradition with the spirituality and mysticism rooted in Eastern philosophies. After delving into various ancient religions and arts, her works draws inspiration from Buddhist scriptures, classical poetry and literature, Indian and Persian manuscript painting, as well as Chinese and Japanese woodblock printed books. The diverse materiality of her work is manifested by her combination of various artistic traditions and crafts in her contemporary interdisciplinary art practice that spans from ink on paper, oil on canvas, woodblock printing on textile, to video and architectural installations.

Inspired by Hermann Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game”, Han Mengyun’s presentation at Art Basel weaves a visual contemplation on the conflicts of the intensified global crisis through a sequence of paintings echoing the complexity and mystery of literature and poetry. Incorporating the Indian woodblock-printing method she learned in Jaipur, the latest triptych Purity and Danger, refers to anthropologist Mary Douglas’s eponymous book on the categorisation of purity and dirt, safety and danger, border and control in various social contexts. Jewels of Impermanence I and II represent the artist’s attempt to bring Dutch Vanitas and Japanese Buddhist Kusozu’s paintings together as she meditates on their common universal idea of the transience of life and the futility of pleasure. While the pearls depicted in A Broken Verse II and several other paintings symbolise the crystallised human wit, a visual metaphor for poetry shared by all world literatures, the broken string implies Han’s critique of the interrupted lineage of knowledge. The derailed cosmic order found in Mandala of Insanity and the apocalyptic landscape inhabiting dead birds under a glaring sun in Whose Glory? reveal her obsession with the ultimate existential questions for humanity. Han Mengyun unearths her individual voice from the intertwined ethnological, religious, historical and contemporary cultural narratives and concerns as she embarks on a new excursion into a cross-cultural and transhistorical dialogue in art beyond borders.

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