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How many times can you pull off the same disappearing act? An unlimited number of times — if you’re Chinese artist Liu Bolin. A full decade on from his first series, “Hiding in the City,” Liu has continued to work within the unique medium — camouflaging himself into various backgrounds with the aim of raising awareness on political and societal issues.

“I always use my works to question and rethink the inequality and imbalance caused by the process of human development,” says Liu, who in the past, has been painted to ‘disappear’ into the backdrop of demolition sites and supermarket aisles (to voice concerns about China’s fake food scandals).

Artist Liu Bolin peels off the mask of camouflage
Artist Liu Bolin peels off the mask of camouflage

This week, Liu’s studio has released “The Future” — a photograph of the artist painted into a vibrant backdrop of flags from all 193 United Nations member states. Spread among these are square blocks of 17 UN Global Goals — including “no poverty” and “climate action.”

“I arranged the UN Global Goals logos to form ‘UN’ at the center of the background,” explains Liu. “Their goals are in keeping with themes found in my work. We both address clean energy, poverty, global warming and other ecological problems.”

The collaboration with the UN is part of an artist-driven campaign to spotlight new sustainable development goals that will be officially adopted by the UN General Assembly later this month.

Over the past 10 years, Liu has built up an impressive arsenal of works. He’s well-received on the international art circuit, and has extended his work to commercial ventures — including collaborations with top fashion houses.

Liu Bolin Invisible man
No longer invisible? In Liu’s Hacker series, the artist hacks into the institutional websites of major countries and hides himself in photos found on their websites. In each, he shines a literal light. “I am questioning the relationship between a country and its people, the domination of a government’s political power, as well as the rights to the photos themselves,” Liu explains.

But in the contemporary art world, an artist that draws international fame, often faces the danger of being pigeon-holed into repeating the same act.

Liu seems to shrug off this suggestion: “I have never thought to stop ‘disappearing.’ The society we live in is changing tremendously everyday. The background I use today, might be gone tomorrow. Therefore, I think my works will continue to become more valuable as they evolve to address more significant ideas.”

In his recent Target series, the focus is on current, pressing events — and he paints others into backgrounds. Works include ‘disappearing’ residents of one of China’s infamous cancer villages, and a tribute to Charlie Hebdo victims, after gunmen attacked the offices of the French publication earlier this year.

Liu Bolin
Liu camouflaged 23 residents from one of China’s ‘cancer villages.’ into a rural backdrop. A chemical factory is seen in the distance.

Up next, Liu will travel to Sicily and Lampedusa, to create works about people migrating from Africa to Europe.

“Disappearing is not the main point of my work,” Liu says. “It’s just the method I use to pass on a message. To tell people if we don’t stop the way we live, or pay attention, we will all face our own disasters. It’s my way to convey all the anxiety I feel for human beings.”

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