The artist recalled the inspiration for his ‘Hat Series’ in an interview in 2008, “My interest in the hat was piqued at the time of the Olympic Games in Athens, when various hats were used to denote the ranking of the medal winners... It made me think about the origin of hats, and how the symbolism of ‘the hat’ evolved. Why was it that this particular accessory became the sign of a job, a social position? Or stranger still, how a hat could signify nationality, or an ethnic group… No one chooses a hat lightly: it has to be right. Unless it goes with the job – then you have no choice. So the placing of various hats on the figures in this series of paintings is about highlighting the role of the hat in asserting and reinforcing social differentials, and my sense of the absurdity of the ideas that govern the socio-political protocol surrounding hats” (the artist, cited in an interview with Karen Smith in Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Volume 7, Issues 1-4, 2008, p. 32). Although at first amusing and curious, with its brightly painted figure and heavenly backdrop is weighed down with oppressive undertones; the hat becomes a forced identity, a label under which one must assume a role in society and act accordingly. The lack of individualism in Yue Minjun’s laughing characters ensures they remain hauntingly ambiguous, unrecognisable as individuals. It is a telling and enduring motif that acts as a stark visual reminder of the oppression that remains in the modern world.
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