The Chinese born photographer Ren Hang was just 29-years-old when he took his own life in 2017, yet within the less than 10-year period he spent working with his point-and-shoot camera he rose to international attention; gaining a mass online following and the support of artists as diverse as Ai Wei Wei and Frank Ocean. His playful, sensuous, notably fearless images typically depict his friends in Beijing, naked and (more often than not) locked in fleeting moments of same-sex intimacy. Unsurprisingly, his work was heavily censored in his home country and met with extreme hostility by the Chinese authorities, who deemed it to be pornographic.
Wake Up Together at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool marks the first UK presentation of a series of Hang’s photographs, which will be presented alongside his poetry (the origin of the exhibition’s evocative title). Hang once stated that gender “only matters to me when I’m having sex,” and his work conveys, above all, an open sense of acceptance, interpreted within the exhibition as ‘championing the rights of every person to love who they want and respectfully live as they wish’.
Coinciding with Wake Up Together, Open Eye also presents a second, accompanying show, again focusing on themes of sexuality and gender. Where Love is Illegal brings together the stories of people experiencing punishment and discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual-orientation – a reality for many around the world. The international project consists of a series of portraits taken by photographer Robin Hammond, accompanied by the subjects’ own handwritten accounts of living through discrimination in cultures that remain hostile to how they love or how they identify.
‘Wake Up Together’ is presented by Open Eye Gallery as part of Homotopia Festival 2018 (16 Nov 2018 – 17 Feb 2019), the UK’s longest-running LGBT+ arts and heritage festival.