Artist: Lily & Honglei Art Studio
Medium: Oil on paper, animation
Year of completion: 2014
In the film Oedipus, the namesake protagonist is represented by a young Chinese man. Inspired by the Sophoclean tragedy, the plot of the Greek drama is twisted in a manner that parallels the kinks that are bound to take place when cultures come in collision. The narrative of the hero’s life is revealed through the three riddles of the Sphinx, putting forth a metaphor for the inevitable fate of Westernization in China.
Charmed by the exotic beauty and extraordinary strength of the Sphinx, Oedipus tries to emulate the Sphinx’s lithe crawl. His efforts though, are vastly inadequate. The character’s awkward, bumbling movements mirrors the failure of the reforms that occur after China’s every encounter with a foreign culture that it admires.
After this encounter, Oedipus makes his way to his birthplace, represented as a timeless Chinese village. It is here that the desperation from his recent failure drives him to commit patricide in an attempt to disconnect himself from his cultural heritage. The symbolic nature of the scene is made clear when the protagonist displays the head of his his father; its appearance is evocative of the faces of Confucius and Karl Marx, two men who have become ingrained in the mindset of modern China.
When Oedipus realizes that he is as inseparable from his cultural identity as two siamese twins sharing a middle leg, Oedipus commits unspeakable adultery. He embraces his motherland’s fate of drowning in the materialistic worship that resulted from exchange with the West.
Agonized by failure and debauchery, Oedipus finally blinds himself so that he does not have to witness the consequences of China’s disastrous endeavor at Westernization.
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LILY & HONGLEI © 2014. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.