Long-distance call

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 June, 2010, 12:00am

As far as his parents, who live in northern China, are concerned, Musk Ming is an art gallery worker somewhere in Europe - they aren't aware their 31-year-old son is an up-and-coming artist in Berlin, Germany. Ming does not use his real name and is coy with his parents about his life abroad for two reasons: he is a homosexual and he specialises in gay art.

'Being gay is too much to be accepted in mainland China. My parents may accept it but the people around them won't and my parents may get upset,' says Ming, who left for Europe five years ago.

His work, characterised by nude male figures wrapped up in Mao-era imagery, has a flamboyant quality that contrasts with its soft-spoken creator. Ming grew up as an obedient and book-loving child who wore thick glasses and stammered. Yet along with a deferential demeanour he possessed an urge to break free. He found his freedom in Berlin, where he has come out of the closet and develops art that would be frowned upon in his homeland.

'In China, you have to be the same as others and I was considered weird. Here, I can do what I want without worrying what other people think. The emphasis is on individuality. I've been told not to be reserved but be crazier - and I thought I was already crazy,' he says.

Ming had wanted to go to an art college in the mainland but his civil-servant father made him do a degree in computing instead. His first job was as a graphic designer, which he enjoyed. Yet life remained unsatisfactory, partly because he had to hide his homosexuality from everyone except a couple of close friends. Then he befriended a German man online, who is now his partner, and his life changed.

In 2003, he visited the friend in Berlin and took a shine to the city.

'Coming from China, where everywhere is full of people, I found Berlin quiet, green and spacious. The Germans were straightforward and spoke their mind. I liked all that.'

In 2005, he revisited Berlin to study graphic design and gradually carved out a niche for himself, creating gay Asian art, through which he expresses a 'longing for an open-minded, gay-, bisexual-, lesbian- and transgender-friendly China'. His creations have been shown in some 30 exhibitions, five of them solo, in Germany, Holland, Spain and Thailand.

In 2008, he was to display a painting at the Olympic Fine Arts exhibition in Beijing - but the authorities removed the piece shortly before the opening, claiming the male figures in the picture were too scantily clad.

'I expect China to be more open to homosexuality. Yet each time I return, I am disappointed,' Ming says.

He hopes to live in China again, 'when things improve', simply because it is home. As for his parents, Ming intends to spill the beans to them one day.

'They should be liberal enough to take the truth but I'm procrastinating - for as long as I can,' he says.