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In this new digital-exclusive series, we take a closer look at Yun-Fei Ji’s epic scroll “The Village and its Ghosts.” The 57-foot-long scroll tells the story of a fictional village that at first glance appears to be a picturesque mountain refuge, like those that populate classical Chinese landscape paintings. Upon deeper examination, a more nuanced and contemporary reality is revealed.
As we move through the unfolding narrative of the scroll, we encounter a community experiencing monumental social and ecological transformation. Ji traces the history of China’s industrial revolution and rise as a global superpower through the microcosmic lens of life in this imaginary village. The result is an elegiac and at turns supernatural lament for a way of living eradicated by the steady march towards “progress.”
Ji masterfully employs the traditional techniques of classical scroll painting. The ink and watercolor compositions possess an immediacy that suggest a splintered, at times surreal, contemporary landscape. Delicate feathering denotes the furred limbs of cloven-hoofed, berobed monsters, while dense passages of wash define the mountainside beneath their feet.
Many of the demonic and haunted creatures that populate Ji’s compositions recall the ghost stories and folktales the artist first learned from his grandmother while growing up in the countryside.
Since the Cultural Revolution, portrayals of ghosts, spirits, and demons have been suppressed by the Chinese Government and can still be prohibited today. When exhibited at the 10th Shanghai Biennial in 2014, portions of a related scroll were censored from public view.