Performance Artist – Zhu Yu

Zhu Yu

Chinese Artist- Performance Art

In 2000, the artist Zhu Yu shocked the world with Dinner – Eating People, a series of photographs documenting the artist calmly procuring, preparing and devouring what was identified as a six-month-old stillborn human foetus. The piece was intended for ‘Fuck Off’, the infamous exhibition organized by Feng Boyi and Ai Weiwei as an aggressive alternative to the Third Shanghai Biennale, which they felt had been tailored to prove how well Chinese artists could conform to the expectations of international audiences. While Zhu’s photographs were pulled at the last minute for fear of censors, the images took on another existence after being picked up by international media as supposed evidence of an outrageous ‘baby-eating’ trend in China. The clarification that these photos were part of an art performance did little to allay the widespread indignation.

But Dinner – Eating People was not a performance. Zhu insists that he framed the piece as ‘conceptual photography’, scripting it as cinematography rather than as an action. The images belonged to a larger series experimenting with the use of human flesh in art, partially in response to the shock tactics prevalent in the Chinese art scene at the time, but also as a genuine inquiry into the tyranny of ‘morality’ over human behaviour. (Such tactics were identified and formalized in the exhibitions ‘Post-Sense Sensibility: Alien Bodies and Delusion’ in 1999 and ‘Infatuated with Injury’ in 2000, which both packaged an engagement with the abject – human cadavers, animal carcasses, etc. – as a declaration of independence from the Western art market.) Zhu was not entirely unprepared for the public reaction; following an earlier work in which he made jam out of human brains, he staged his own trial for ‘Abuses of Human Corpses’ (in which, unsurprisingly, the artist triumphed). In 2004, satisfied that he had thoroughly exhausted this line of questioning (garnering a reputation as one of the world’s most reviled artists in the process), Zhu turned to painting. His subject matter became human remains of a different type: the scraps of leftover food on unwashed dinner plates. (

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