Cul­tural Silk Road

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Yi Mei

In his work The Si­lence, Ecuado­rian artist Ni­co­las Her­rera de­picts an African woman with her eyes cov­ered. The beau­ti­ful and pow­er­ful paint­ing has been a tremen­dous draw at a re­cent show, in­spir­ing vis­i­tors to ques­tion fe­male rights in a pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety.

The work is part of the 7th Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Art Bi­en­nale, which fea­tures 601 works by 567 artists from 102 coun­tries, of which 411 pieces are by for­eign artists and 190 by Chi­nese artists, on dis­play at the Na­tional Mu­seum of China. Works were se­lected from over 10,000 sub­mis­sions by 4,000 artists from 120 coun­tries. Along­side the theme ex­hi­bi­tion are six spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tions. Four high­light the con­tem­po­rary art of the coun­tries of Ge­or­gia, Greece, In­done­sia and Mon­go­lia, along­side “Tour of Art from Tin­toretto to Li­langa” and “Spe­cial Ex­hi­bi­tion of Do­nated Art from Pre­vi­ous Bei­jing Bi­en­nales.”

The theme of the 7th Bei­jing Bi­en­nale is “The Silk Road and World Civ­i­liza­tions.” In 1877, Ger­man ge­og­ra­pher Fer­di­nand von Richthofen first coined the term “silk road” in ref­er­ence to the an­cient line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­nect­ing the con­ti­nents of Asia, Euro­pea and Africa. Dur­ing the Han (206B.C.—220A.D.) and Tang (618—907) dy­nas­ties, bustling trade along the Silk Road en­abled China’s silk, porce­lain and pa­per to reach the world and in­tro­duced for­eign prod­ucts and con­cepts such as Bud­dhism and spices into China. The Silk Road was a route not only for trade but also cul­tural ex­change, fa­cil­i­tat­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion and mu­tual learn­ing be­tween world civ­i­liza­tions.

As it has done for many years, the 7th Bei­jing Bi­en­nale still fea­tures paint­ings and sculp­tures com­ple­mented by some new me­dia forms like in­stal­la­tions and video. Fo­cus­ing on the theme, these works em­ploy di­verse forms of artis­tic ex­pres­sion, from the fig­u­ra­tive to the ab­stract, from re­al­ist to sur­re­al­ist. Though most works de­pict cul­tural relics of the an­cient Silk Road, cus­toms of dif­fer­ent coun­tries and sym­bolic im­ages, they do not mourn for days of yore nor to ex­plain po­lit­i­cal terms. Rather, they em­pha­size the ex­pres­sion of the Silk Road spirit—mu­tual learn­ing and in­te­gra­tion among world civ­i­liza­tions in­stead of con­fronta­tion and con­flict.

Dur­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion, the two cu­ra­tors, Ding Ning, pro­fes­sor at the School of Arts of Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity and Miguel An­gel, vice pres­i­dent and ed­i­tor of Stu­dio In­ter­na­tional (world’s long­est run­ning art mag­a­zine, founded in 1893), granted ex­clu­sive in­ter­views to China Pic­to­rial.

China Pic­to­rial: As a cu­ra­tor, what is your main re­spon­si­bil­ity?

Ding Ning: The Bei­jing Bi­en­nale has a cu­ra­to­rial team. I am one of the cu­ra­tors for the in­ter­na­tional group. I need to guar­an­tee that the ex­hi­bi­tion is in­ter­na­tional. I am glad to see artists from more than a hun­dred coun­tries join the event. Also, I need to main­tain the di­ver­sity of the works. A good ex­hi­bi­tion, es­pe­cially such a largescale one like the Bei­jing Bi­en­nale, should in­clude a rich va­ri­ety of arts. Fac­ing tens of thou­sands of sub­mis­sions, cu­ra­tors must have sharp eyes to spot the out­stand­ing ones. Ac­tu­ally, it was re­ally dif­fi­cult for cu­ra­tors to de­cide on the most ex­cep­tional work be­cause of so many sub­mis­sions. And some­times, we may ap­pear bi­ased due to the re­stric­tions of cul­tural back­ground. For­tu­nately, we had a team and could brain­storm, help­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion be more in­clu­sive. I think this is an ad­van­tage of the Bei­jing Bi­en­nale: Its di­ver­sity and qual­ity are not to be com­pro­mised due to the cu­ra­tor’s per­sonal knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ad­di­tion­ally, we tried to bal­ance the

theme ex­hi­bi­tion and the spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tions, which are the two parts of each Bei­jing Bi­en­nale. Even though the theme ex­hi­bi­tion is big, it is still not big enough to ac­com­mo­date more than one work from each artist, which is a pity. So we set up spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tions, which make up for that lim­i­ta­tion to some ex­tent. Some spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tions are tremen­dously sig­nif­i­cant and en­able spec­ta­tors to see dif­fer­ent arts. Miguel An­gel: As a cu­ra­tor, I looked for art that show­cased the theme of the Bi­en­nale as well as artists who cre­ated very dis­tinct and pow­er­ful work. I sub­mit­ted a list of rec­om­mended artists to the or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee. I am pleased that five of them were in­cluded in the Bi­en­nale. All the artists I chose have unique view of their cul­ture. Their works are all cul­ture-based. But my cri­te­ria went be­yond that. I think this ex­hi­bi­tion is a good chance to dis­play what is hap­pen­ing in ev­ery cul­ture all over the world. So I looked for works that said some­thing about hu­man­ity and some­thing about the com­mon­al­ity be­tween all peo­ple. Just be­cause we look dif­fer­ent does not mean we don’t share the same feel­ings.

CP: How do you in­ter­pret the theme “Silk Road and World Civ­i­liza­tion?”

Ding: The theme re­flects the host na­tion’s sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the world. As is well-known, China has pro­posed the “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.” So the theme “Silk Road and World Civ­i­liza­tions” al­ludes to an­cient China’s con­tri­bu­tions as well as the coun­try’s fu­ture role in the world. The theme can foster an aware­ness of mu­tual learn­ing and cul­tural ex­change. Some think it is po­lit­i­cal. But I think ev­ery ex­hi­bi­tion is po­lit­i­cal to some ex­tent. Even with­out any po­lit­i­cal fac­tors, an ex­hi­bi­tion that pur­posely avoids pol­i­tics is mak­ing a po­lit­i­cal state­ment. I in­tend to point out that the theme “Silk Road and World Civ­i­liza­tions” can en­com­pass end­less top­ics and that it was a big chal­lenge for artists to dis­play the theme dis­tinc­tively. An­gel: My un­der­stand­ing is that the theme en­com­passes ev­ery cul­ture be­cause the Silk Road was not only a trade route but also a cul­tural ex­change route, where peo­ple met peo­ple from dif­fer­ent cul­tures. To me, the Silk Road is what the in­ter­net is to­day. The Silk Road opened a door to the world for China as well as a door to the East for the West. Its func­tion was very sim­i­lar to what the in­ter­net does, al­low­ing peo­ple from dif­fer­ent cul­tures to com­mu­ni­cate. It was like the first in­ter­net. So, the theme is about ex­change of ideas, about cul­ture and about hu­man­ity.

CP: What’s the high­light of the 7th Bei­jing Bi­en­nale?

Ding: This time around, the num­ber of par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries has topped one hun­dred. Such a large-scale ex­hi­bi­tion could be called a block­buster. But we know quan­tity does not guar­an­tee qual­ity. To en­sure qual­ity, we only chose pieces with high artistry fo­cus­ing on the ex­hi­bi­tion’s theme. And thanks to the in­creas­ing num­ber of par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions, the au­di­ence can ad­mire less fa­mil­iar works like those by fe­male artists from the Mid­dle East, artists from Eastern and North­ern Europe as well as young artists from West­ern Asia and Africa. An­gel: I haven’t seen all the works. So I can only com­ment on the artists I re­com- mended. Mex­i­can artist Pa­tri­cia Guz­man’s Flow­ers in the Desert de­picts an el­derly woman with a heavy lines and a lot of his­tory to be seen in her. The work shows a fan­tas­tic use of color, light and shade re­sult­ing in emo­tion and power. In­dian artist Shad Fa­tima’s Un­ti­tled is an ab­stract work that ap­pears like a land­scape of fall­ing build­ings. It’s very cap­ti­vat­ing. Even though ev­ery­thing is de­stroyed, the lights pro­duced within cre­ate forms and shapes like you’ve never seen be­fore. Maryam Najd from Bel­gium sub­mit­ted a work ti­tled Utopia, in­spired by peo­ple mov­ing from Syria to Europe. Many Euro­pean peo­ple did not ac­cept and wel­come them. In the work, a man is stand­ing on a rock with a sort of flag. It is very thought pro­vok­ing.

Re­mem­ber You by Ilona Kosobuko (Be­larus), oil and graphite on can­vas, 120cm×130cm, 2016

Fable of the Blind Painter by Dario Or­tiz (Colom­bia), oil on can­vas, 170cm×270cm, 2016

Flow­ers in the Desert by Pa­tri­cia Guz­man (Mex­ico), acrylic on can­vas, 150cm×100cm, 2012

Storm Ap­proach­ing by Vladimir Vitkov (Is­rael), dig­i­tal art on card­board, 66cm×50cm, 2015

Utopia by Maryam Najd Javadipour (Bel­gium), oil on can­vas, 180cm×120cm, 2016

Pi­azza San Marco, Venice by Fang Xiang (China), ink and color on pa­per, 248cm×124cm, 2013

Fig Trees by Ge­orge Gavriel (Cyprus), oil on can­vas, 150cm×200cm, 2016

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