Zhang Dali’s work actively engages with the rapidly changing environment in China. Zhang started working in portraiture as one of Beijing’s first graffiti artists, spraying and carving heads into the walls of the hundreds of buildings scheduled for destruction. Working across a wide variety of media – from urban art, to archiving photographs of Mao, and large scale installations – Zhang’s portraits document a contemporary social history of a culture in radical development and flux.

Chinese Offspring is one of Zhang’s best known works. Consisting of 15 cast resin figures suspended from the ceiling, each sculpture is a representation of a migrant construction worker, a vast underclass who contribute to the modernisation process at it most visible level. Since 2003, Zhang has made 100 of these effigies in tribute to their unsung heroism. Zhang’s work not only champions the individual plights of these transient labourers, but also records the one of the most important phenomena of new Chinese order: the growing schism between poverty and wealth. Zhang’s figures are hung by their feet to denote their vulnerability and economic entrapment. Each bears a unique tattoo issuing them with an edition number, the Chinese Offspring project title, and the artist’s signature of authentication – a normal practice in indexing art construed as a witty commentary on social engineering and population control

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