Yue Minjun’s haunting laughter

In the New Criterion Dalrymple reviews a recent Paris exhibition of the work of Chinese painter Yue Minjun, whose paintings depict the false, forced smiles of Chinese victims of oppression:

…there is nothing of hilarity or amusement in the laughter he depicts. Rather, his works are full of desperation and terror which are signalled in more than one way. Expressions are uniform, as in the figures in the paintings, only where there is fear or intimidation, by whatever force or for whatever reason. Where there is freedom, there is difference; uniformity implies coercion, whether it be political or other. We should be ill-advised to adopt the complacent view that such uniformity can be produced by, or exist in, only totalitarian regimes; for in our own increasingly over-regulated, fearful, and risk-averse societies, where in many places we fear to say what we think and even have begun to fear to think what we cannot say, the mask of uniformity is beginning to cover our faces. Yue pictures suggest a world in which mental, if not of physical, cloning is being attempted.

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