Chai na (China)
“Please wear your mask” has become a standard political slogan that has been ubiquitous throughout the country in recent years. Those who wear masks and those who do not, those who demand that others wear masks and those who do not care whether others wear masks have formed two distinct political forces, and everyone socializes within these two different groups, including artists.
In June 2019, artist Tu Shia’s studio in Beijing was forcibly demolished.
I belong to the group of people who do not wear masks. I believe that viruses have existed on earth for hundreds of millions of years, and our human bodies have been polished to be able to coexist with all viruses. Wearing masks to isolate viruses from the air is the greatest harm to our human free spirit. If there is a new terrifying virus (manufactured), wearing a mask is useless. The virus will always find a way to enter your body before you have a chance to evolve resistance. Life and death are realities beyond our control. At this time, whether one has some kind of faith in their heart becomes particularly important!
In 2015，Tu Shia’s lecture recording at New Art Salon
In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, politicians have found a great excuse to strengthen their leadership and control over society. These individuals, who consider themselves smarter and more morally upright than the average person, joined forces with medical experts who believe in masks – while another group of medical experts do not – to develop and organize various policies and plans that dictate what people must and must not do. People’s normal lives have been disrupted, and they cannot go out, gather, see friends, or even talk about topics that are not related to the virus. Those who dare to break the rules are ridiculed, condemned, or punished, including US House Speaker Ms. Pelosi (who did not wear a mask when entering a hair salon) and UK Prime Minister Johnson (who hosted a private beer party at 10 Downing Street). Meanwhile, I and the artists around me are fighting to defend our legitimate studios – it’s not really a fight, just hopeless resistance and procrastination. These artists’ studios will be illegally demolished!
Meeting with Hong Kong Legislator Mr. Wong Yuk Man in 2013
One morning in June 2022, a notice was posted on the gate of our park, informing people that these buildings were illegal and would be demolished. However, no legal documents could be found to support the claim that these buildings were illegal. Because of this notice, the artists began to carefully read the relevant legal provisions. According to their reading and understanding, these buildings were standard, legal structures. But people no longer had the desire to argue – for years, art districts have been demolished for various reasons all over the country, and not a single one has succeeded in making an appeal, let alone receiving even a fake compensation. Artists have been classified as the low-end population of this city and have been arbitrarily driven from place to place. In August 2022, my last studio in Beijing was demolished – and before that, my previous studio was demolished in June 2019.
2019 Tu Shia Beijing Studio
Now, I have returned to Chongqing and re-established my studio away from the center. In this era of the Internet’s multicultural parallel universe, the concept of “center” and the lifestyle built upon it may be disappearing. Beijing is no longer the cultural and artistic center of China that it once was, nor is it the only gateway for China to connect with the world. The term “Beipiao” (referring to artists and cultural figures who have drifted to Beijing) has been used for a long time, referring to people who feel like they are floating above society, without cultural roots in the community, and unwilling to continue to absorb nutrients from that cultural soil. They self-exile, and drift aimlessly. Beijing was once the window and bridge for China to connect with the world, attracting many artists and cultural figures who were full of modern ideals, hoping to get closer to the world and further away from the decaying and declining culture. These people make up the Beipiao group. However, it is no longer the only way out for modern Chinese artists with ambitious dreams. I have returned here, settling down, in an age of unpredictable changes, trying to find a place to hide from the storm (although no one can really stay away from it), reading and painting, drinking a little wine with friends, and quietly waiting for changes – whether good or bad – to come. This is the experience conveyed by countless artists at turning points in history.
Attended the Symposium on Contemporary Chinese Art and Social Criticism at the Canadian Embassy in 2014
As an artist of my age, I no longer listen to rock music, watch movies like “Guess the Train,” burn my life with passionate emotions, or proclaim my beliefs through unconventional words and actions or eccentric clothing. I no longer believe that art can change the social status quo too much (although great art can always transcend time). I prefer to find the soul’s support and timeless aesthetics in the melody of Mozart’s Requiem. Art may not always be eternal, but the pursuit of art is eternal.
March 8, 2023, Beibei China.
Born in June 1966 in Chongqing, I developed a habit of enjoying summer from an early age, basking in the sunshine with minimal clothing, giving me the illusion of infinite freedom. As a response to the country’s call for the Third Front construction, I moved with my parents to the mountainous regions of Sichuan. I completed my education from kindergarten to high school in a military enterprise community before becoming an apprentice at the factory. Due to my love for drawing since childhood, I was admitted to Sichuan Fine Arts Institute as a worker in 1986. At that time, there were very few artists, let alone professionally trained ones. With my sunny disposition and the atmosphere of freedom and openness in the 1980s, I developed a character full of bold and unrealistic expectations for the future.
In 1989, I participated in and led the student movement that cannot be spoken of even today while still a student. I was subsequently sent to a rural middle school as an art teacher.
In 1991, I resigned from my government position and became a freelance artist in Chongqing, supporting myself by creating large outdoor advertisements. I participated in the first Guangzhou Biennale of Contemporary Art in 1992 and was nominated for an award. In 1993, I participated in the first National Oil Painting Biennale at the National Art Museum of China and won the Academy Award. However, due to suspicions of political leanings in my work from officials in the Ministry of Culture, my award was recklessly revoked. To make ends meet, I joined a clothing company owned by Taiwanese in Chongqing in 1993 and worked on window and graphic design. It was during this time that I began to learn design software such as Corel Draw, Photoshop, and Page Maker. It was also during this period that I met the love of my life, who was a member of the model team that frequently came to the clothing company for presentations.
After 1996, I gradually stopped drawing. At that time, there was no art market, and I had to rethink my life. I started an advertising company with some friends, but it was difficult to sustain. I gradually realized that in China, advertising companies do not make money based on your creativity and artistic ability, but by the resources of the media, which are controlled by the state.
In 2001, a small property developer became my friend. He appreciated people like me who had received a good education (including the reading habit I had maintained over the years), were artists, smart, and articulate. He wanted to share his next development project with me. We struggled for a few years and everything seemed to be falling into place, but ultimately, the project fell through. Due to a change in leadership, the new leaders gave the land that had been given to us by the previous administration to another company.
I rested at home, waiting for another opportunity. During that time, another friend of mine acquired a small foot massage parlor and mahjong hall. He asked me to become his partner, and I played mahjong with a group of guys there for a few years. Later on, I realized that my life could not end there. I could not stay at the mahjong table forever. I was tired of waiting and wanted to get back into art. I once had a great ideal in art, and I needed to go back to it.
Artists are people who float in a society. They have no roots, and they are always dissatisfied with the cultural reality of their society. They are unwilling to absorb nutrients in traditional culture and their sights are set on the world. Artists have no settled abode, and they keep moving forward. I decided to go to Beijing.
Tu Shia Beijing Studio
In 2008, I established a studio in Beijing, and my works were collected by the White Rabbit Contemporary Chinese Art Collection in Australia that same year. In 2012, I was interviewed for “Standing Memory – The Spiritual Records of 500 Chinese” and the book was collected by the National Library of China and the Central Party School Library, making me a research subject in the country. In 2013, I met with liberal legislators such as Martin Lee in Hong Kong and was interviewed by Radio Free Asia. In 2014, I participated in the China Contemporary Art and Social Critique Symposium at the Canadian Embassy in China. In 2015, I was interviewed by “The World of Chinese,” an English magazine published by the Commercial Press, and my works were collected by the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art’s Nitchu Sumi-e Exhibition and the Van Gogh Museum in London.
In 2019, my studio at Rome Lake in Shunyi, Beijing was forcibly demolished, and in 2022, another studio at Rome Lake was also forcibly demolished. Afterward, I returned to Chongqing to establish a new studio.
Now, I am in Beibei, Chongqing, where many Chinese cultural figures took refuge during World War II.
2013年杜峽接受自由亞洲的采訪（In 2013, Tu Shia was interviewed by Free Asia）
1991年，我辭去公職回到重慶當自由職業藝術家，靠繪製巨型戶外廣告維持生計。1992參加第一屆廣州當代藝術雙年展，並獲獲獎提名，1993年參加在中國美術館舉辦的第一屆中國油畫雙年展，獲學院獎，但是由於文化部的官員對我的作品可疑的政治傾向產生懷疑，魯莽的取消了我的學院獎。由於生存的需求，1993年我進了一家台灣人到重慶來開的服裝公司，在裡面做櫥窗設計和平面廣告設計，這個時候我開始接觸電腦設計軟件，我是一個腦子很靈活動手能力也很強的人，不多久就學會了Corel Draw，Photo Shop，Page Maker等軟件。在這期間，我碰到了我的愛情，她是常來這家服裝公司進行展示的模特隊的一員。
2008年，我到北京建立了工作室，同年作品被澳大利亞白兔中國當代藝術基金會收藏，2012年接受《立此存照——500個中國人的心靈記錄》專訪，該書被中國國家圖書館和中央黨校圖書館收藏，我成為這個國家的研究對象。2013年去香港會見黃毓敏等自由派議員，並接受自由亞洲採訪，2014年到加拿大駐華使館參加中國當代藝術與社會批判座談會，2015年接受商務印書館在美國發行的英文雜誌《The World of Chinese》專訪，同年作品被東京都國立美術館日中墨畫會收藏，同年作品被倫敦梵高故居美術館收藏。2019年在北京順義羅馬湖的工作室被強拆，2022年在羅馬湖的另一個工作室再次被強拆，之後回到重慶重新建立工作室。