Fingerprint art project helps elderly people with no family
Published: Nov 16, 2023 11:52 PM
The artwork created by Zou Cao Photo: Courtesy of Zou Cao

The artwork created by Zou Cao Photo: Courtesy of Zou Cao

With the name Temple of Heaven, an artwork jointly created by Chinese contemporary artist Zou Cao and “isolated elders,” or elderly people who have no family, has recently been finished and revealed to the public. 

The art piece took Zou and his partners two months to create. There are 10 different versions of the art prints. The main subject of the prints is the Temple of Heaven, which was built in Beijing in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). 

Taking a close look at the art, one can see the architecture has been depicted with thousands of overlapping fingerprints. Compared to figurative paintings, the architecture looks slightly surreal, yet the artwork’s purpose is to be close to reality as Zou wanted to reconnect the marginalized “isolated elders” group with mainstream society. 

“These elderly people are not just a community that needs to be helped. The idea of ‘everyone joins in the public welfare project’ can be achieved when the elderly participate in the whole art-making process,” Zou told the Global Times. 

The art practice was originated as a charity program that was launched by the Tencent Foundation. The program is called “grandparent companionship project.” It offers support including food and companionship for 10,000 elderly people across the country.

The idea for the artwork came from the fingerprints some elderly people left on their letters sent to the program’s volunteers. 

“I’ve been thinking about what I can do for the old people,” the artist told the Global Times and he added that the gap between fine art and society can be closed. 

The art piece of Temple of Heaven reflects a trending artistic topic that is called “socially engaged art,” art critic and museum expert Li Liyang told the Global Times. 

“This art form tries to make a response to what happens in society and everyday life. It is not just about changing the context but also reveals an artist’s longing and their focus on life practices,” Li told the Global Times. 

The prints will be auctioned and all the benefits will be donated to the elderly people. 

“I made the whole project into a ‘social sculpture,’ using artistic methods to change society based on what I, as an artist, can do,” Zou told the Global Times. 

A research forum that relates to this artistic practice has also been carried out. Veteran TV host Jing Yidan said that ageing is always a sore point of societies. The public should pay more attention not only to elderly people without families, but also other elderly groups such as people who have lost their children. 

Yu Yang, a famous art critic, said that Zou's fingerprint painting was different to his previous works. There is a genre transformation in turning the “prints” to “performance art,” Yu noted.

“Fingerprints are a symbol of contact in traditional Chinese culture. We can also interpret this as a commitment of the artist to his social responsibility,” Yu said.