A sculp­ture gar­den of the Amer­i­cas’ he­roes

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By CAI CHUN­Y­ING in Wash­ing­ton charlenecai@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Pedes­tri­ans and mo­torists pass­ing by the mon­u­ment-filled Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue in the US cap­i­tal might dis­cover yet an­other stone trib­ute — a dozen sculp­tures of the Amer­i­cas’ he­roes nes­tled in the side-street lo­ca­tion of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States (OAS).

To cel­e­brate the 10th an­niver­sary of China’s par­tic­i­pa­tion as an ob­server mis­sion of the OAS, the ex­hibit — Amer­i­can States in Yuan Xikun’s Eyes: Preser­va­tion & Trans­for­ma­tion — was un­veiled ear­lier this month at the Art Mu­seum of the Amer­i­cas by the OAS and the Chi­nese em­bassy.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, which will run through Aug 1, show­cases the sculp­ture art­work of Yuan Xikun, a renowned Chi­nese artist, ed­u­ca­tor and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cate.

The 12 his­tor­i­cal fig­ures on dis­play, cre­ated by Yuan in the past 10 years, in­clude Colom­bia’s Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez, the re­cently-de­ceased No­bel lau­re­ate au­thor of One Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude, Venezuela’s Simón Bolí­var and Ar­gentina’s José de San Martín, two of the most in­flu­en­tial po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who led Latin Amer­ica’s suc­cess­ful strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence from the Span­ish em­pire.

“Think of Simón Bolí­var, who came from no­ble Span­ish fam­ily yet con­trib­uted and fi­nally sac­ri­ficed his life to the fight for the lib­erty and free­dom in Latin Amer­ica,” said Yuan who flew in from China to at­tend the open­ing cer­e­mony in Wash­ing­ton.

“I was moved by their pas­sion and char­ac­ters and the rich his­to­ries and cul­tures of the re­gion,” Yuan said dur­ing an in­ter­view with China Daily at the sculp­ture gar­den of the mu­seum.

Pas­sion also filled Yuan’s voice when he stated the goal of his own artis­tic pur­suit — pay­ing trib­ute to hu­man dig­nity and no­bil­ity. “Just as Michelan­gelo said, sublime is the high­est level of art yet most dif­fi­cult to achieve. My art is my re­li­gious script,” he said.

Yuan’s sculp­ture is hailed for its vi­tal­ity and un­con­ven­tional look. Other than har­vest­ing nu­mer­ous in­ter­na­tional awards in­clud­ing na­tional medals by some coun­tries that house his sculp­ture, his work has been cho­sen as na­tional gifts by Chi­nese pres­i­dents to their for­eign coun­ter­parts.

His sculp­ture of Abra­ham Lin­coln, also in­cluded in the ex­hibit and ti­tled Be­fore the De­ci­sive War, was given by then Chi­nese pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama dur­ing Hu’s last state visit to the US in 2011.

Yuan also cre­ated statue Fly­ing Fish— Michael Phelps, which was un­veiled at the US Olympic Com­mit­tee head­quar­ters af­ter the swim­mer swept a record num­ber of gold medals dur­ing the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics. Yuan’s Wright Broth­ers is now at the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum in Wash­ing­ton as part of its per­ma­nent collection.

Yuan is a pain­ter-turned sculp­tor. His other sig­na­ture and dis­tinct art form is ink-and­wash por­trait, a tech­nique show­cased in the more than 150 por­traits of world lead­ers that he was in­vited to draw, of­ten in per­son, in­clud­ing Nel­son Man­dela, Bill Clin­ton, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Al­bright, and even Fidel Castro, usu­ally fin­ished within half an hour.

Yuan said he per­fected his fast sketch­ing skills in his youth in his na­tive vil­lage of Yu­nan prov­ince, mak­ing por­traits for peas­ants. “They need to hold still those heavy plows for me so I had to be quick. They helped to forge my ca­pac­ity of de­liv­er­ing a rich piece us­ing con­cise lines in lit­tle time,” re­called Yuan who also holds a pro­fes­sor­ship at the Grad­u­ate School of the Chi­nese Arts Re­search In­sti­tute.

Yuan, 69, said Chi­nese artists of his gen­er­a­tion were heav­ily in­flu­enced by the clas­sics of the Western re­nais­sance yet firmly rooted in Chi­nese tra­di­tional value.

Yet he is also the avant-garde kind in many fronts. He con­trib­uted his own money to bring back to Bei­jing many rare Chi­nese antiques stranded over­seas and es­tab­lished a pri­vate mu­seum to house them. The site has be­come a cen­ter for in­ter­na­tional cul­tural ex­change.

He de­voted much of his time and trea­sure to en­vi­ron­ment pro­tec­tion causes. Many of his art works are re­lated to the har­monic or dis­rup­tive in­ter­ac­tion be­tween hu­man and the na­ture. He there­fore was granted as Pa­tron for the Arts and En­vi­ron­ment of the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­gramme.

Yuan par­tic­u­larly likes the green out­door set­ting of the OAS sculp­ture ex­hibit as it res­onates with his own ad­vo­cacy for en­vi­ron­ment.

“Just as Rodin said, na­ture is my only wor­ship. If vi­o­lat­ing the na­ture can be pun­ished as we pun­ish all other crimes, the world will be a much bet­ter place,” Yuan said, point­ing at the greener­ies sur­round­ing his sculp­ture pieces which also in­clude Ecuador’s Eloy Al­faro, Peru’s Tu­pac Amarú, Brazil’s Lula Da Silva, Do­mini­can Repub­lic’s Juan Pablo Duarte, Bo­livia’s Tu­pac Katari, Juana Azur­duy, and An­dreo De Santa Cruz, and Cuba’s Jose Martí.

Scan it!

wa‘ I s moved by their pas­sion and char­ac­ters and the rich his­to­ries and cul­tures of the re­gion.” YUAN XIKUN RENOWNED CHI­NESE ARTIST

PHO­TOS BY LARRY LEE / CHINA DAILY

Yuan Xikun with his sculp­ture fig­ures at the Sculp­ture Gar­den of the Art Mu­seum of the Amer­i­cas in Wash­ing­ton.

José de San Martín

(1778-1850) The Repub­lic of Ar­gentina Size: 56x120x150 cm

Cre­ated in 2013

Juan Pablo Duarte Díez

(1813-1876) The Do­mini­can Repub­lic Size: 72x45x77 cm Cre­ated in 2012

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