At first glance, Qi Mengli’s artwork seems to be only comprised of overtly sexual images. Upon a closer inspection, viewers will discover that sex serves only as a small part of a bigger picture, yet is a necessity for what the work seeks to convey. Her recent project Xiao Ren Shu, tells candid tales about some of the men she has encountered in her life. It is considered to be a very personal piece of work and is presented like a monologue. It explores love and relationships, among many other themes. Born in Nanjing, China, Qi Mengli utilizes the familiarity of her birthplace as the backdrop in Miss Known and Sister Known. These two projects transport the viewers to the sites of some well-known Nanjing landmarks, such as the old Chinese presidential quarters and Dr. Sun Yatsen’s Mausoleum.
Miss Known is a story about the founding of the Republic of China. Sister Known, on the other hand, has a visual style reminiscent of the music video Ninety-nine Roses, by the famous Chinese singer Samuel Tai. “For example, when someone I meet is giving off a Samuel Tai-style vibe, then that might inspire a story that fits the vibe,” she explains. “The entirety of Xiao Ren Shu follows the traditional comic creation process. But my narrative style is closer to the style of older movies. I like to envision them as old-fashioned music videos.”
Mengli’s work is greatly influenced by the filmmakers Wong Kar-Wai and Tsai Ming-liang. In her comic art, every frame has a cinematic feel instilled in it. That particular style is especially common in Japanese manga and Western comics.
The Xiao Ren Shu series had previously been displayed in an exhibition hosted in the US, but the reception it got didn’t meet Mengli’s expectations. She feels this series mostly contains Chinese influences and themes, and thus would be more suitable for the exhibition to be held in China. She sees the exhibit more fittingly being hosted in an older Chinese building with a historic past; for example, she envisions architecture such as the historic old Shanghai buildings near Yuyuan. Mengli also considers an intimate and artsy café space to be a suitable place to exhibit her work. In the future, she hopes that her collection of picture books can have a spot on bookshelves for interested readers.
Mengli reveals that she is currently working on a series of black-and-white comics, as well as being in the process of turning the Xiao Ren Shu series into a puppet animation. The decision to use puppets is mainly because of her personal interest and childhood nostalgia towards them. She explains, “I loved Afanti when I was a child. The textures and colors in that world are what I seek to recreate with my future animation.”
Similar to Mengli, plenty of other artists in China pay out of their own pocket and publish independently. In doing so, it makes it incredibly difficult for the artists to make any profits. Fortunately, there are now more and more channels from which talented creators can be discovered. Many artists, including Meng Li, believes the future for them will hold a more nurturing environment for their craft. Xiao Ren Shu is now available for purchase in the New York Printed Matter store and select book fairs in the United States.