As mainland China's avant-garde movement grew in depth and maturity, it became clear that Chinese artists' practices emerged from the complex interaction between collective history, personal experience, national identity, and domestic and international aesthetic styles. For many of these artists, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) proved to be the generation's formative experience. We can see the influence of this extreme and tumultuous period in Wang Guangyi's furious Great Criticism series, in the malformed collective consciousness that emerges from Yue Minjun's self-images, and in the poignant and haunting images from Zhang Xiaogang's iconic Bloodlines Series.
For Zhang, the Cultural Revolution became the central metaphor for the Chinese experience of the 20th Century. His "Bloodlines" series is inspired by early photographs which, like any personal image from the past, evoke not only the memories of the personages at that time, but also images of the time and events that have passed since. In the case of the Bloodlines Series, we are given a vision into a time when the entire country conceived itself as "one big family" and encouraged individuals to conform to a collective ideal.
In this rare two-figured example from 2000, Zhang exaggerates the resemblances between his two young women, drawing literal "bloodlines" between them, emphasizing their traditional familial bonds. At the same time, Zhang offsets the youngest figure in a shocking pink. Zhang commented that he selected these colors to emphasize the individual's pure essence, pointing to their innocence as they're born into circumstances and obligations beyond their control. This color also highlights tensions between generations brought about by political and practical necessity. In the traditional Chinese family, the youngest generation is expectated to carry forward the family lineage. At this time in Chinese history, however, the most progressive political position for China's youth was to reject the authority of tradition involving the traditional family structure. In this bundle of contradictory impulses, disingenuous surfaces, and nostalgic sentiments Zhang sees his generation's central conflicts. He has said of these works, "On the surface the faces in these portraits appear as calm as still water, but underneath there is great emotional turbulence."