This week, a friend (thanks Dave!) sent me a link to the work of the Beijing-based comic artist and subversive illustrator Satan Lucky. He chose this name for himself when he was a teenager. Many Chinese youths choose an English name for themselves that becomes powerful and self-referential. I knew a guy called “Awesome” when I lived in Shanghai (really I did). I suppose it is much like being given a Chinese name…mine is 马十灯 (ma shi deng) – the horse of ten lights…neither feminine of masculine, conceptual by nature (obviously), meaning that I am a creature of strength and power who is constantly thinking with more than one idea at a time…it’s a very apt name for me (thanks to my PhD Director of Studies, Jiang Jiehong, for this)…very me right? Every Chinese person I’ve ever met smiles when they read it on my business card. Anyway, I digress…I have become very interested in the work of graphic and comic artists lately (I have written previously about the Hong Kong artist Li-Chi Tak and David Mazzucchelli)…from all across the globe. I’ll talk more about them other another time…I’ll write that on my blogging “to do” list that seems to have escalated out of control.
Satan Lucky – who can be found on Weibo here – is interested in meaningful storytelling, largely influenced by manga culture and the work of the late Japanese master Osamu Tezuka, his work shows an escape from a strict upbringing, schooling and Chinese ideals that comics are for kids. The photographic portrait of the artist below shows his inner nature…where you get a real sense of his playfulness and humour as he clutches the rather contented yet awkward looking ginger cats. Comics in China are viewed as a simple visual tool to entertain, skimming the surface of truth creating playful (yet content restricted) fantasy lands. Satan Lucky wanted to delve deeper into the truths showing the brutality and an honest perspective of China. He, like many creatives in China, walks the fine line of censorship and has the potential to get him and his professional associates (such as printers and distributors) into trouble. He realises that even online, supposedly a more free area of expression, he can be censored even though he believes that something is changing “even if we can’t talk about a revolution of free speech yet”. A few months ago, when he was writing a satirical strip about animals sitting in a restaurant ordering human parts from a menu, he explains,
“At first the publisher thought that nudity was too explicit. I can’t say I agreed, since fish and meat usually appear undressed on restaurant menus, but I accepted to put a pair of trousers on the human delicacy. But at the end it was still considered too provocative for publication…Self-awareness about the sensitivity of your contents is a key factor…and finding alternatives to deliver your message is also a creative challenge, more than just a compromise.” – Satan Lucky
In his recent publication of 50 drawings, “Book of China’s Strange Happenings” (Chinese title: “Huaxia Yishilu”), Satan Lucky has bravely accepted this challenge and found ‘a successful mechanism to tell the story of a dystopian society, where reality often transcends the boundaries of imagination’. It is a collection of monsters, drawn in the style of traditional ukiyo-e (Hokusai Manga), each of them is a transfiguration of real episodes or phenomena of contemporary Chinese society – The Angry Stare of Pollution behind the Chinese “air-pocalypse;” the Monster of Land Speculation, disseminating buildings all over the city; the thousand ears and eyes of Big Brother; the Mosquito of Inflation, whose flatulences sweep zeros off the banknotes and many others. He states, “My generation has been fed with utilitarianism and atheism, moral bindings became less and less important, and I see envy and possession as the main causes of many evils and abuses of nowadays society.” The monsters become a metaphor for the generation in which he is traversing and growing.
The artist has been referred to as an “artivist”…another hybrid term that I would rather never hear again (what is it with “this language” today…who allows this talk!). To me, he is like many of the younger generation of contemporary Chinese artists and creatives who are constantly trying to understand their place and identity within the changing socio-historic and economic boundaries of China…taking chances in pushing the boundaries, testing the water, seeing how far they can get in making a particular statement about their ambitions and desires, that for the West, would be easy. Thanks to Alessandro De Toni/Cool Hunting for the information. I hope to talk to Satan Lucky soon about his potential involvement in a future exhibition I am currently working on. As always, many projects in motion…马十灯…
“If everybody had real freedom of choice in his life, there would not be room left for envy and possession.” – Satan Lucky