A teenager at the launch of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese artist He Qi (pronounced huh chee) is fast gaining world recognition for his paintings, which are almost exclusively depictions of biblical events.
The witty, reverent paintings are full of the symbolism of Beijing Opera, medieval-style hidden messages, and modernist plays on perspective and time. And He is introducing a new idiom for biblical art, one influenced by, but not part of, the European traditions. His website says, "He hopes to help change the 'foreign image' of Christianity in China by using artistic language, and at the same time, to supplement Chinese art the way Buddhist art did in ancient times."
He's work is gaining more and more attention in the West. He has exhibited in the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, and Hong Kong, as well as in mainland China. In 2006, Overseas Ministry Study Center collected his work in Look Toward the Heavens, and he is now working on an ambitious project: an illustrated Bible. It's an unlikely project for the son of a non-Christian mathematics professor.
"It's a long story," He begins. His father's university in Nanjing was shut down during the Cultural Revolution of 1966. As a teenager, He was sent by the Communist Party to a communal farm to undo the un-Communist effects of city life and his parents' intellectualism.
"The physical labor was very hard, very, very hard." He Qi said. "But I was a clever boy. I was looking for something to let me avoid such very hard farm work."
He saw an opportunity in the party's desire to make Mao Zedong's image ubiquitous. "In the Cultural Revolution in every corner in China, people worshiped Chairman Mao. Even in the countryside, in the fields, they asked artists to ...