A Delay of Meaning
Hengzhi Gong
Project overview —

In the context of escalating cultural censorship, artists face the challenge of expressing social and political concerns when direct speech is restricted. One potential solution is to embrace a delay of meaning, wherein artists craft apolitical pieces that allegorically represent political issues. When employing allegory, the narrative in paintings ceases to follow a linear trajectory—akin to the axiom ‘seeing is believing’—and instead adopts a more intricate curvature, encouraging both seeing and disbelieving (Elkins, 1994). Consequently, this not only postpones the revelation of meaning but also delays comprehension.

In my own artistic endeavours, I harness allegory derived from the historical memories of ancient Chinese culture. I draw inspiration from the emptiness and implicit speech present in literati paintings: the more ambiguous a narrative becomes, the larger the interpretive space it offers (Jullien & Todd, 2012). My paintings attempt to blur distinctions between the private and public spheres by weaving personal narratives. At a cursory glance, a viewer might perceive a tale tinged with subjective, dark humour. However, upon extended observation, the imagery reveals a more sinister deviation. Subtle cues within the painting hint at social and political issues, which, for many Chinese artists, remain challenging to articulate overtly.


Elkins, J. (1994). The poetics of perspective. Cornell University Press.

Jullien, F., & Todd, J. M. (2012). The great image has no form, or on the nonobject through painting. University of Chicago Press.



In 2018, Hengzhi Gong graduated with a BA in Industrial Design from the Beijing Institute of Technology and, in 2020, with an MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art. Now, he is completing his PhD in Arts and Humanities at the RCA. His work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Royal Academy of Arts, Southward Park Galleries, No.20 Arts, Josh Lilley Gallery, Fold Gallery, Hockney Gallery, West Bund Museum (Shanghai, China), A/W Space (Nanjing, China), Western Exhibitions (Chicago, US) and Gallery LVS (Seoul, Korea).