A sculpture garden of the Americas’ heroes
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.
wa‘ I s moved by their passion and characters and the rich histories and cultures of the region.” YUAN XIKUN RENOWNED CHINESE ARTIST
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