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An Optical Illusion Master Disappears in the Flags of the World

"Invisible man" Liu Bolin and the United Nations band together to show what World Peace looks like.

by Beckett Mufson
Sep 2 2015, 2:50pm

©Getty Images,courtesy Klein-Sun Gallery

Today, a mosaic of the nearly 200 flags of countries comprising the United Nations hides a secret: it's the "invisible man," Liu Bolin, a Chinese artists known for subtly hiding himself within photographs, images, and landscapes by painting his entire body to match his surroundings, like a chameleon. Today, in concert with the United Nations Global Goals campaign, Bolin unveils The Future, an artwork designed to draw attention to the campaign's 17 goals for change, which include ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and well as reversing climate change, all by 2030.  

"Whenever I begin to create a piece, I first think of the background. The background is the most important aspect of my work," Bolin tells The Creators Project. "I feel my message is strongly felt when people view the relationship between the 'disappeared' and the environment which hides them. So, for this project's background, I placed 18 visuals from the Global Goals campaign within 193 National Flags of the United Nations."

In the past, Bolin has hidden himself and his subjects in traditional Chinese paintings, a wall of falling coins, photographs of forests, citiescrowds, and many more in order to convey "the idea of feeling invisible," something everyone from awkward American high school students to the oppressed activists of Bolin's homeland can relate to. He continues, "This project is different from my previous series, where I comment on reality and contemporary society with my images. The national flags here stand for a variety of countries, races and languages—it is a comment on the entire world and of world peace. This is why I chose to hold the painted sign 'Future' within the picture as well, to emphasize the message of the Global Goals project. From my perspective, goals like developing sustainable energy should be the future of all human beings on this planet. Thus, I have shown my support of this campaign by titling the piece The Future."

©Getty Images, courtesy Klein-Sun Gallery

See Liu Bolin's process at work in our documentary coverage below.

©Getty Images, courtesy Klein-Sun Gallery

©Getty Images, courtesy Klein-Sun Gallery

©Getty Images, courtesy Klein-Sun Gallery

©Getty Images, courtesy Klein-Sun Gallery

©Getty Images, courtesy Klein-Sun Gallery

©Getty Images, courtesy Klein-Sun Gallery

©Getty Images, courtesy Klein-Sun Gallery

©Getty Images, courtesy Klein-Sun Gallery

©Getty Images, courtesy Klein-Sun Gallery

The 193 nations represented in the piece will gather on September 25th to affirm their commitment to the Global Goals campaign. Bolin's The Future is the first of several events sponsored by the Global Goals project, with performances by Ed Sheeran, Pearl Jam, and more on the way.

See more of Liu Bolin's work on his website, and in our coverage below.

Find 'Invisible Man' Liu Bolin at a New Gallery Exhibition in Paris

The Invisible Artist: Blending Into Liu Bolin's Paintings

[Video] I Became Invisible Inside A Liu Bolin Painting