The for­eigner who cham­pi­ons Chi­nese art

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

Prom­i­nent US artist and pro­fes­sor com­bines West­ern and Asian in­flu­ences in her unique cre­ations that have won her in­ter­na­tional ac­claim that come very nat­u­rally to me, and have al­ways been around since my child­hood,” said Edel­stein, who started liv­ing in Shang­hai in 2007.

“Be­ing in a fam­ily of artists meant that I could use their stu­dios for my work. My brother was more in­clined to work with char­coal while I chose ink,” she added.

The artist noted that liv­ing in the rel­a­tively re­mote area in the hills has shaped her artis­tic in­cli­na­tions as well, say­ing: “As an artist, there is some­thing that you carry as part of your back­ground. For me, it is be­ing a part of na­ture.”

For the Sec­ond In­ter­na­tional Sculp­ture Ex­hi­bi­tion in Hangzhou’s West Lake area in 2001, the Amer­i­can cre­ated a sculp­ture that was in­spired by the shape of an­cient trees and the wil­lows around a lake.

The sculp­ture is the first

art­work al­lowed to be dis­played in the lake since Song Dy­nasty (960-1279).

“My work is al­ways based on my re­search of the site and my im­pres­sion of it,” she said.

“And wa­ter is an in­te­gral part sculp­tures.”

Edel­stein said that she hopes her art can have a calm­ing ef­fect on peo­ple, en­cour­ag­ing them to ap­pre­ci­ate na­ture and in turn bring peace to the world.

“De­tails such as the leaves, shad­ows, vines and the slow change of mo­tions can help city dwellers in me­trop­o­lises con­nect to the nat­u­ral world,” she said.

Other works by Edel­stein were dis­played in China and around the world, in­clud­ing El­e­men­tal Spring: Har­mony, a cop­per and bronze sculp­ture at the Shang­hai Jing’an In­ter­na­tional Sculp­ture Park al­ways of my

and the sculp­ture Fall­ing in the Djerassi Sculp­ture Park in Cal­i­for­nia, the United States.

She pointed out that liv­ing in Shang­hai ex­panded her hori­zons, say­ing that “the artis­tic tra­di­tion here is strong and vi­able and I ap­pre­ci­ate learn­ing more about Chi­nese cul­ture the longer I stay”.

Edel­stein re­called that there were only around 15 art gal­leries in Shang­hai back in the 1990s, a stark con­trast to the present where there are more than 200 rep­utable mu­se­ums and gal­leries, in­clud­ing the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art, Yuz Mu­seum, Rock­bund Art Mu­seum, West Bund Cul­tural Cor­ri­dor and Power Sta­tion of Art.

Edel­stein’s re­la­tion­ship with Chi­nese cul­ture and art also stems from her hus­band Zhang Jian-Jun, a Chi­nese artist from Shang­hai. The cou­ple first met at a party held by the Asian Cul­tural Coun­cil in New York in 1990. They tied the knot nine years later.

Her first trip to China was in 1997 when she vis­ited Zhang’s fam­ily in Shang­hai.

Dur­ing that trip, the cou­ple also vis­ited Suzhou, Jiangsu prov­ince, and Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, to ad­mire Jiang­nan (East China) cul­ture. They went to Xi’an, Shaanxi prov­ince, to learn about the ori­gins of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture.

Be­sides cre­at­ing art, Edel­stein and her hus­band are art pro­fes­sors at New York Univer­sity Shang­hai, the first Sino-US higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tute to re­ceive in­de­pen­dent regis­tra­tion sta­tus from China’s Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion.

The cou­ple’s West­ern and Asian back­grounds have been ben­e­fi­cial to the learn­ing process as Edel­stein and Zhang al­low stu­dents to view the East from a West­ern per­spec­tive and vice versa.

Stu­dents learn how to in­cor­po­rate ink into con­tem­po­rary paint­ings, sculp­tur­ing, multi-me­dia as well as Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy.

“We are not nec­es­sar­ily teach­ing stu­dents to be­come artists. Rather, they are learn­ing how to think cre­atively, how to look at things, and how to broaden their minds,” said Edel­stein of her role as an ed­u­ca­tor.

And though they have been mar­ried for 18 years, the ro­mance be­tween them is hardly lost.

“She is kind, sen­si­tive and tal­ented, and knows how to bal­ance the heavy and light ma­te­ri­als to­gether, like the stones, steel, wa­ter and leaves,” said Zhang, who Edel­stein said still holds her hand when they’re walk­ing down the stairs.

“One thing he doesn’t do, how­ever, is carry my purse,” added Edel­stein while smil­ing at her hus­band.

“But in­stead of car­ry­ing your purse, I carry your sculp­ture tools,” quipped Zhang.

Cao Chen in Shang­hai con­trib­uted to this story.


Bar­bara Edel­stein and her hus­band Zhang Jian-Jun are art pro­fes­sors at New York Univer­sity Shang­hai.

Bar­bara Edel­stein’s art­work in­spired from an­cient trees and wil­lows in the West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince.

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