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  • Jan 19, 2021

Obituary: Jin Le (1966–2021)

Portrait of JIN LE at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, 1999. Courtesy the artist and Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong.

A sculptor, educator, and the founder of China’s first village-based museum, Shijiezi Art Museum, in Gansu province, Jin Le, passed away on January 11, aged 56. Details of his death have not been disclosed.  

Jin was born in the rural village of Shijezi in 1966, and was the first in his hometown to obtain a university degree. After studying sculpture at Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts from 1986 to 1991, he worked briefly as a product designer in Shenzhen before returning to Gansu to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts of Northwest Normal University in 1992, where he remained a professor until his passing. He completed his postgraduate studies at Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts from 1998 to 2000, during which he held his first solo exhibition at the academy's Passage Gallery. In 2000, artist Ai Weiwei and curator Feng Boyi invited Jin to exhibit in the controversial "Fuck Off" exhibition at Shanghai's Eastlink Gallery which was closed down by authorities after ten days.

In 2007, he was invited by Ai Weiwei, along with four of Jin’s fellow villagers, to participate in Ai’s Fairytale (2007) project as part of a group of 1,001 mainland Chinese people whom Ai invited to Kassel for the duration of Documenta 12 that year. This experience introduced the impact of art to Jin’s village along with hope for a better way of life. In the following year, driven by his own experiences of the increasing discrepancy between urban and rural China, Jin founded the Shijiezi Art Museum in the village, utilizing the village’s houses as exhibition halls. The establishment of the Museum aimed to not only bring art closer to the people, but also offer a way for the villagers to express, shape, and reclaim their identities.

During its 13 years of establishment, the Museum hosted over a hundred exhibitions and events that garnered wide attention. Between 2015 and 2016, the “Fly Together — The Shijiezi Art Practice Project” hosted 25 artists at the village, including Bao Xiaowei, Liang Shuo, Cheng Lin, Hu Jianqiang, Li Songhua, Qin Ga, among others, working alongside the villagers over an extended period. In 2017, the Museum also served as an artist-residence site for students of more than ten Chinese art academies, including Shenyang’s Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, and Lanzhou City University Design School, among others, organized by Xi'An Academy of Art and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Long-term friend and collaborator Ai Weiwei made a tribute to Jin on Instagram on January 12, posting a photo of Jin’s altar along with the text, “Rest in peace Jin Le.”

Celina Lei is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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