• Ren Hang was a controversial artist in China who was famous for his brand of nude photography.

Ren Hang was a controversial artist in China who was famous for his brand of nude photography. (Photo : Facebook)

Chinese photographer Ren Hang died last weekend and sent a shock to the art world. The controversial photographer has challenged China’s censorship because of his erotic and politically challenging pieces.

He started photography as a hobby while attending university in Beijing. He gained interest in taking pictures of nude people and usually asked friends and even his own mother to pose for him.

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He then developed erotic themes and challenged strict Chinese censorship laws. He told The British Journal of Photography, "I don't want others having the impression that Chinese people are robots. . . . Or they do have sexual genitals but always keep them as some secret treasures."

His career as a photographer blossomed as he gained fame in social media through Flickr, Instagram, Facebook as well as his own website.

Hang’s photos crossed eroticism and the surreal but mostly were explicit as they showed erections and sexual acts. He was arrested and often censored.

He was arrested a number of times for shooting naked people in public. His exhibitions were shut down twice and his website was banned.

However, he wasn’t pushing gender issues with his pieces. He once was asked why he has many photos of penises.

He said, “Gender isn’t important when I’m taking pictures, it only matters to me when I’m having sex.”

“I don’t really view my work as taboo because I don’t think so much in a cultural context or political context," he said.

"I don’t intentionally push boundaries, I just do what I do,” he added.

Many viewed his pieces to be pieces that wanted to speak against conformity and challenging social norms. He was also vocal about his struggle with depression and said that he had episodes of hallucinations.

In January, he posted on Sino Weibo, “Every year I always have the same wish: to die an early death. Hope that it comes true this year."

Many followers grieved and honored the young artist. One Weibo user posted, "I am not sad because you weren't happy here."