oil on canvas
162 × 130 cm
The political references in the painting imply the integration of political history into daily life in China. Among the typical decorations of Chinese rural interiors is the Mao poster that used to be very common after it replaced the Stove God in households. The smoked ham is partly an ironic reference to Mao, the nickname being used by netizens to call the embalmed Chairman to elude censorship and (in many occasions) to show negative attitude towards him as well as the regime’s ideology. The umbrella is a reference to a popular propaganda painting showing Mao with a red umbrella under his arm; it also refers to a famous statement by Mao describing himself as a "a lonely monk walking in the rain under a leaking umbrella" — a romantic image which actually was a “lost in translation" by the American journalist Edgar Snow. The common use of newspaper sheets as wallpaper in old houses also points metaphorically to the normalization of history within Chinese households.
Renewing the genre of still life, the painting also borrows its symbolism, with the egg, the mask echoing the figure of the skull, the pieces of meat (dead animal), and more generally with the suggestion of the precariousness of life. Following the baroque aesthetics of still life, Vanitas acts as an apologia of precariousness. At odds with the pace of our contemporary world that fetishizes speed and verticality, it affirms the aesthetics of stillness, slowness, and horizontality as a subversive force to redefine our existential positioning in the world. Its subtle temporality invites the viewers to halt their attention, look unrestrainedly, and muse on their relation to memory.