Xiaogang’s compelling Bloodline series has deep roots within the artist’s early life amidst China’s Cultural Revolution. Based on traditional family portraits, the artist’s figures, most in grisaille but all similar in appearance with somber expressions and clothed in Maoist suits, are connected by thin red lines, demonstrating the familial ties coexisting within the collectivism that was foundational to the movement. The rigidity of the portraits though, is broken up by selective use of color or small distortions to the sitters emphasizing the individualism that was existent, if systematically stifled, under the period’s strict social confines. Bloodline first garnered international attention at the 1994 São Paulo Biennial and, most notably, the 1995 Venice Biennale. Since then, Xiaogang has become a highly sought-after contemporary artist whose works have been part of hundreds of exhibitions including major shows at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The way I understand the big family is always associated with the danwei (the state-sanctioned work unity) and my own family… being a member of a big family is an identity deeply rooted in the Chinese blood… The phrase ‘big family’ stemmed from a Maoist slogan, ‘We all live in a big revolutionary family.’ This slogan emphasises collectivity and conformity, not individuality.