Zhang Huan’s red requiem to the Covid-19 dead in China

Recognized as one most provocative contemporary artists working today, Zhang traces the origins of a tragedy

Every canvas is dripping in red with words as poignant as the lives that were shattered by the Covid-19 crisis.

In a mixed media collection, Zhang Huan explores the meaning of grief with the broad brushstrokes of a painter and the crafted words of an essayist.

The outcome is remarkable.

Touching a highly-sensitive subject, his study in remembrance illustrates why he is one of the most influential and provocative contemporary artists working today.

“These are the stories that moved me during the pandemic,” Zhang, whose art hangs in the Guggenheim Museum and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, simply said in pared-down prose.

Below are photographs and extracts from Zhang Huan’s collection which appeared on the website of PACE, a leading contemporary art gallery.

Zhang Huan’s Love No.5, 2020. Image: © Zhang Huan
Unknown Pneumonia

Weng Qiuqiu, 32, was pregnant from the city of Huanggang in Hubei Province when she contracted the new strain of coronavirus. Zhang picks up the story: 

“She felt unwell on January 8 [and] after visiting multiple hospitals, she was finally examined. It was discovered that both of her lungs appeared unusually white in X-rays. She was [admitted into] intensive care, [which] cost [her] 50,000 to 60,000 [yuan a day or US$7,386 or US$8,863]. 

“After she borrowed more than 200,000 [yuan] for medical care, her condition still didn’t improve, and on January 21 her husband, Chen Yong, finally signed a consent form, agreeing to cease medical support of Weng Qiuqui. An hour later, she died.” 

Zhang Huan’s Amitabha No.7, 2020. Image: © Zhang Huan
Beijing’s First Covid-19 Death

Zhang recounts the background leading to the death of Yang Jun, who traveled from Beijing to Wuhan. The city would emerge as the epicenter of the virus in China.

“Yang Jun [visited] Wuhan from January 8 to January 12 and was diagnosed with Covid-19 on January 22. He died five days later. Just a few days before, he had posted on social media: ‘The first stop of the first day of 2020: the playground. It’s time to move around and experience youth in its prime.’”

Zhang Huan’s Amitabha No.8, 2020. Image: © Zhang Huan
Li Wenliang

Whistleblower Li Wenliang became the people’s martyr for his stand against corruption in the battle against Covid-19. Zhang describes the following events: 

“On December 30, 2019, ophthalmologist Li Wenliang released information about the outbreak that began in Wuhan’s South China Seafood Market. For posting this information in a WeChat group of his classmates, he was labeled a ‘whistleblower’ by the public [and] reprimanded [by the police] for ‘publishing untrue statements on the internet.’

“On January 10, two days after examining one of his patients who was later diagnosed with Covid-19, Li Wenliang developed a cough [and] was later admitted to hospital on February 1. On February 7, he passed away early in the morning, missing the birth of his second child.”

Zhang Huan, Amitabha No.3, 2020. Image: © Zhang Huan
Chang Kai

The film director had a simple message before his death. “Farewell to the people I love and to those who love me,” he said. Along with his sister, mother and father, he became another victim of the coronavirus on February 14. Zhang writes:

“On January 25, the first day of the Chinese New Year, Chang Kai’s father developed symptoms of pneumonia. Due to a shortage of hospital beds, he resorted to treating himself at home and died on January 27. 

“His family also developed the [symptoms]. His mother [died] on February 2. Chang Kai and his sister also succumbed to the disease on February 14. In 17 days, four people passed away.”

You can read the unedited versions of artist Zhang Huan’s commentary at the PACE Gallery website and view his work by clicking on this link.