Ling Feng,      The Witch Hunter’s Dilemma, 2018          Oil on canvas   162x130cm  

When Cultures and Histories Collide

By John Seed (Art Professor and Art Critique)

An elegant and perplexing painting, The Witch Hunter’s Dilemma by Lingfeng depicts figures from Eastern and Western cultures meeting in an imaginative scenario. The female figure—a sensuous nude who reaches back to raise a tress of dark hair—is taken from Nude Before a Mirror by Balthus, a Western modernist known for his sophisticated eroticism. The man she faces is Zhong Kui, a legendary figure from the East: a Daoism hunter of spirits, ghosts and witches. Su, who is well-versed in the art of both cultures, has brought them together to generate questions and make those questions come alive in a contemporary context.


In Lingfeng’s painting Zhong Kui, is no longer a demon hunter but instead plays the role of a policeman or detective. The young woman he encounters activates him with her nudity and vulnerability. Zhong Kui pulls back his sword—and restrains his tiger—while his considers his options. What the artist has done is to locate the deeper, meanings of each figure in order to create a form of mythological narrative that can applied to the moment we live in. The dilemma faced by Zhong Kui is like those that police in China and Hong Kong face when they face disruption in the streets. Should police in these situations be loyal to power or to protest? Are the young people they meet in the streets to be respected or arrested? Can vulnerability and innocence serve as shields from authority?


Combining myths and images and making them relevant again—across time and culture—is an exercise has occupied Lingfeng for nearly a decade. He sees art as a kind of safe space to search for the questions and quandaries that underlie the grand forces at work in the world today. Although Su and his art don’t easily fit into any single category, he is best described as a Postmodern Surrealist, since his art appropriates existing imagery into dreamlike and imaginative narratives. 


The Witch Hunter’s Dilemma is from an ongoing series of over 100 canvases that Lingfeng calls Déjà vu, a reference to the French phrase that translates literally to “already seen.” The titles many of the works in this series—such as Sins of the Father, Big Brother Sees All and The Ruling Elite: Parasites—make it clear that Lingfeng is also a social critic who goes beyond simply raising questions. He is also a moralist who does not hesitate to judge or criticize.


© 2020 by Ling Feng