Sculpting Role Models for the New Era
The National Art Museum of China Sculpting Event in Honour of Model Heroes and Model Workers was launched by the National Art Museum of China Sculpture Workshop to create sculptures for role models and leading figures in the new era.
Under the hands of a group of adroit sculptors wholeheartedly concentrating on the study and moulding of statues, lifeless clay turned into lifelike human forms.
The sculptors who stood at the worktables concentrating on their creations were all outstanding young artisans participating in the National Art Museum of China Sculpture Workshop's themebased art creation seminar. The subjects, who remained motionless in front of the worktables, were model heroes and wellknown figures from all walks of life in China. Young sculptors improvised on and refined their creations to bring out the soul and temperament of their subjects. Under the hands of these skilled artisans, the image and spiritual temperament represented by the figures of the new era were vividly displayed in the finished sculptures.
This event was part of a series sponsored by the National Art Museum of China Sculpture Workshop. Since the launch of its first themed event on September 13, 2017, known as “The National Art Museum of China Sculpting Event in Honour of Model Heroes and Model Workers,” another six themed events have been held, including “The National Art Museum of China Jiao Yulu Memorial Sculpting Event,”“The National Art Museum of China Sculpting Event in Honour of Military Personnel” and the “2018 Teachers' Day Special Sculpting Event.”
The outstanding figures from all walks of life in the new era have become inspirations for artists not only because their images reflect the spirit of a new era but also because of their noble moral character, which holds promise for the nation. The National Art Museum of China arranged for young sculptors to create likenesses of the figures, to establish them as examples and models. As Wu Weishan, director of the National Art Museum of China, said: “Sculpting is threedimensional, perpetual and inspiring. Today we organise workshops through the art form of sculpture, encouraging sculptors nationwide to actively sign up to make statues of heroes free of charge. I think this is in itself to advocate the virtue of both professional excellence and moral integrity and to advocate a spirit, which is an important bond between artists and the broad masses of the people, between artists and the times.” Wu continued, “As a national art museum, it is not only necessary to hold exhibitions and obtain collections but more importantly, we should leverage the platform and resources of the National Art Museum to foster the construction of advanced socialist culture. I hope that artists from all over the country can hold great love inside and consciously elevate themselves to the height of standing for the people and singing for the times. While pursuing artistic value in life, they should also take the lead for artists across the country to glorify heroes, extol our motherland, praise the people, and celebrate reform and opening-up.”
Celebrate the New Era in a Monumental Way
When thinking of exceptional people and advanced figures, Chinese people cannot help but remember the war-torn and eventful years with images of heroes who shed their blood flashing across their minds; or they might recall Wang Jinxi, the “iron man” they learned about in their textbooks, or Shi Chuanxiang, who “would rather get dirty himself alone to make thousands of households clean.” This goes to show that most of the advanced figures are close to ordinary people's lives—they are not so far away either in time or in space. They are people fulfilling their duties in all trades and professions. They are guarding the security of the land and the people on all battlefronts. While the general public may not know these individuals' names, they recognise their importance in creating the lives we live today.
Wu Weishan said emotionally,“The advanced figures of the new era are model workers in all walks of life, as well as heroes who repeatedly made outstanding military contributions in revolutionary wars. They are committed to their positions as teachers, sanitation workers, medical practitioners, scientific researchers, and national border defenders, making extraordinary contributions through their ordinary positions.”
Sculpture has always held a place of importance in the 60-year history of the National Art Museum of China. Its first director, sculptor Liu Kaiqu, was the creator of the Monument to the People's Heroes. The current fifth director, Wu Weishan, is also a sculptor. Sculpture is significant in that amongst the many different kinds of artistic expressions such as oil
painting, traditional Chinese painting and printmaking, only sculpture is a spatial art. It is a medium that can be used to create a monument, to express a spirit, or to mould an image. Therefore, since September 13, 2017, the National Art Museum of China has tried to portray and eulogise advanced figures through the artistic form of sculpture to convey the positive energy of society to the people.
The National Art Museum of China is a national-level palace of fine art and a platform for aesthetics education. It emphasises the nurturing of people's minds and is a socio- cultural education institution beyond school education. It assumes the historical mission to convey the core values of advanced socialist culture. Through the “Making Statues for Advanced Figures of the New Era” event, young sculptors were cultivated and young people found good examples to follow. Not only were the images of heroes “shaped,” the heroic spirit of the heroes was also promoted. To invite the heroes and model workers into the National Art Museum of China is to invite spiritual beauty into the museum. Whether it is shaping of the spirit of beauty by the young sculptors, the final works completed or the artistic forms produced, they are all carriers of beauty. The whole sculpting process achieves an integration of the ideal and form of beauty, as well as a fusion of the spirit and embodiment of beauty.
According to Wu Weishan, the young sculptors who participated in the “Making Statues for Advanced Figures of the New Era” event came from the national themebased art creation seminars held by the National Art Museum of China, which gathered dozens of outstanding sculptors from across the country. For each event, the National Art Museum of China selects three sculptors from amongst the applicants. Most of them are teachers, associate professors and PHD students at colleges and universities who, despite their youth, have achieved success in their fields.
“While shaping images for heroes and model workers, the young sculptors have also been shaping themselves in a proper manner,” said Wu Weishan. “This is not only a process of artistic creation, but also a process of spiritual communication. Therefore, it is necessary to integrate artistic creation into the process of spiritual shaping, to integrate the growth of young people into the excellent history and to integrate our pursuits today into the great ideal of the Chinese dream. In this way, we will be able to glorify the era in a monumental manner, establish a new model for the era, promote the moral characters of the heroes and communicate their heroic deeds so that the whole of society can form an atmosphere that upholds virtues and art, shape beauty with great love and shape great beauty with great art.”
Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, General Secretary Xi Jinping has reiterated his views on cultural construction and cultural self-confidence in many important speeches and has given very clear directives. Since the speech at the “New Forum on Literature and Art,” it is even more important for artists to keep their roots in everyday life and maintain close ties with people as a lifelong pursuit. Artists should have faith, show moral integrity, be empathetic and stick to principles. These are the requirements of General Secretary Xi Jinping for literary and art workers. The public has an enormous need for beauty. Judging by the two-kilometre-long queue for tickets to the “Beauty in the New Era” and “Sharing of Beauty” exhibitions held by the National Art Museum of China, it is clear that great creations in each era and excellent works that reflect artistic qualities are loved by the public. The “Making Statues for the Advanced Figures of the New Era” event also received attention from ordinary citizens. They came to view the artistic process and exchanged ideas with advanced figures and sculptors. Visitors personally felt the power of role models and were exposed to artistic influence.
Wu Weishan explained: “The art of sculpture may seem like a kind of profound and elegant art to the general public. Some people may think that it is far from our life, but when they see the figures of heroes around them created by the artists, which are very lifelike, they will feel that the art of sculpture is not far from them. This event is a good way to spread art, a good method to spread ideals through art, and a good means to preserve the artists' achievements and the glorious images of advanced figures through the medium of sculpture. These works will be collected and preserved by the Department of Public Education of the National Art Museum of China. For
the some special revolutionary figures, such as heroes and model workers with outstanding military service or who have won numerous medals, the National Art Museum of China will replicate these sculptures and give them to the heroes as presents. This is a tribute paid by the National Art Museum of China to the heroes who made outstanding contributions to our country.”
Making Sculptures for Prominent Soldiers
From the August 1 Nanchang Uprising to the present, from the establishment of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army to the appearance of the Eighth Route Army, the New Fourth Army, the Volunteers' Army and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) until the army building of today, the glorious traditions of the PLA are a precious treasure of our country, and these traditions are embodied in every heroic soldier. In order to commemorate August 1, the anniversary of the founding of the PLA, and to celebrate the 91-year glorious history of the army, on July 31 this year, the National Art Museum of China held the sculpture workshop event themed “The National Art Museum of China Making Statues for Soldiers.” Wu Weishan personally “went into battle” to sculpt Li Yuhou, a war veteran who participated in the Hundred-regiment Campaign and was the former deputy political commissar of the Beijing Military Region Engineering Corps and Equipment Department.
Despite his age of 94, Li Yuhou remained spirited during the sculpture event. He was hale and hearty, wearing medals on his chest that represented both honours given by the country and memories of his youth amidst the wars. Museum Director Wu immediately grasped the old man's uncompromising and upright character. The clay gradually took shape in Wu's hands, with facial features and expressions gradually emerging: Li's eyes look straight ahead, firm and powerful; smiling with mouth closed firmly revealing his fortitude; and his well- developed jaw muscles showing slightly; his head, neck and chest straight and strong. Through the portrayal of these details, an image of an old soldier who has experienced the torture of war was vividly shaped.
In the past 30 years beginning in the early 1990s, Wu Weishan has made around 600 statues of historical figures, including many famous personages in old age, such as sociologist Fei Xiaotong and physicists Yang Zhenning and Qian Weichang, thus accumulating rich experience in creating statues of the elderly. This time, in order to shape the image of Li Yuhou, he spent one and a half hours getting to know the veteran soldier well before he began sculpting.
“Although the old man has retired, he still pays attention to social issues in his retirement years and cares about the growth of the next generation,” said Wu. He explained: “He has a sense of responsibility and a touch of vitality. This kind of vitality is a kind of uprightness. Although he is more than ninety years old, he remains a pioneer of the society and criticises without mercy the problems he disapproves of. He has personal integrity and a righteousness that is detached from the self. The old man is different from the average person who, when acting, just follows a model. He feels that he is completing a task and has a strong sense of mission, like a soldier who is ready for battle. The sense of mission is what the soldiers share. Once the order is issued, the mission must be completed. We also made statues for the revolutionary martyr Li Denggui, who was awarded the title of “The Fearless Guard Soldier” by the Beijing Military Region. On the afternoon of April 29, 1976, in the fight to intercept counterrevolutionaries carrying explosives in an attempt to break into the former Soviet Union embassy to create a major foreignrelated incident, Comrade Li Denggui remained fearless and resolute despite the danger and sacrificed himself at the age of 23. In order to recreate the original image, a young soldier dressed in Comrade Li Denggui's old uniform served as a model. It was quite energyconsuming for the young person to hold the blasting charge through the entire process. The posture can be maintained easily for a minute or two, or even ten minutes, but the model kept the posture for two hours, motionless from beginning to end. In the hot July, both the people who were observing the scene and the sculptor were touched by it. This is exactly the soldiers' sense of mission.”
On the day of the sculpture workshop event, nearly 30 armed police soldiers were observing the scene nearby, and they were deeply touched. Students from Jingzhong Primary School were also invited to the event. They were inspired to cherish the ideal of a strong army in their young hearts. The sculptors were also touched. Wu Weishan said that he hopes the young artists can use their hands to share their respect for the soldiers and their reverence for the People's Republic of China. Wu believes artists should combine creative activities with great undertakings such as eulogising socialism, extolling heroes, glorifying the party and praising the people; and integrate public education activities with this great cause to form a joint force. They should spread positive energy and create new glories for the new era and history.
Sculpture is about expressing figures' spiritual worlds through the portrayal of their appearances, movements and manners. In order to enter the spiritual world of soldiers, Wu Weishan encouraged sculptors to read more literary works and grasp the commonality and individuality of heroes. Individuality can be found in their heroic acts and their different situations, but there is commonality in their spiritual world. The commonality of soldiers is embodied in a kind of uprightness, a kind of bravery, a kind of fortitude, a kind of motivation, a kind of responsibility and a kind of unyieldingness; while the individuality of soldiers is reflected in their identities, such as serving in the Red Army, the Eighth Route Army, the New Fourth Army, the People's Liberation Army and the Volunteers' Army. Various identities and histories have been deeply imprinted on each soldier.
Wu stated: “The times are changing in the process of moving forward, but the figures of the new era are inseparable from our old revolutionary traditions. Today, the army and our entire society are promoting excellent traditional cultures and carrying forward advanced deeds of outstanding figures from different periods. These outstanding figures have inherited the fine traditions of their predecessors, so they have both traditional and modern qualities.”
Moulding Statues for Outstanding Public Servants
The atmosphere at the site was solemn and awe-inspiring. Young sculptor Wu Dingyu calmly viewed the materials and photos of Jiao Yulu, as if making a silent spiritual dialogue. Jiao's resolute expression flashed through Wu's mind, firing his artistic spirit. It took Wu an hour and a half to create the bust of Jiao, the celebrated public servant.
Prior to this, Wu Dingyu has been following the “Making Statues for Advanced Figures of the New Era” event at the National Art Museum of China. He signed up for the opportunity when he learned that he could create a statue of Jiao Yulu. In his words: “I am touched by his deeds and I want to learn from advanced figures.”
Before making the sculpture of Jiao, Wu had known of him through news reports and TV dramas. However, this event gave him the chance to gain intimate knowledge of a public servant. In Wu's view, what he creates is not merely a work
of art. He perceives the spirit of advanced figures diligently and then uses his hands to give shape to this spirit. In the process of preparation, he collected information, studied and understood the image of Jiao Yulu in different periods, and then analysed in which period and under what state the character image was most worthy of being depicted in. During this period, he rewatched a drama in which Jiao Yulu was played by Li Xuejian and cried when he saw the scene of Jiao still working in the late stages of liver cancer. At that moment, he felt he really entered Jiao's inner world. He deeply perceived the great “public service spirit” of an official who has dedicated his life to his country and made selfless contributions even when he was suffering the most excruciating physical pain in his dying years.
Wu Dingyu explained excitedly: “As a sculptor, I have been rethinking what kind of works I should create, how I should represent a character and how to express the spirit. In preparing the sculpture of Jiao Yulu, I gradually understood why I should do this and why teacher Wu Weishan asked us to actively participate in this. My feelings for this creation are deep. As young sculptors, we should be full of vigour and vitality.
In the era with a wealth of information resources, what direction should I choose? Regarding the statue of Jiao Yulu, I am touched by his public servant spirit. Over the past few decades, his spirit has spread to countless people. Now, I am approaching and perceiving him because I will shape his image, and in the process I realise that our artists shall cultivate morality like public servants. The whole process is one of learning for me and a process of correcting and finding my own bearing. Therefore, sculpture is a process of mutual influence between the sculptor and the object. It is a process of cultivating morality. Although his deeds are in the past, the spirit of Jiao Yulu is still alive and fits in with our current era and each of us.”
After full preparation, Wu Dingyu worked quickly and withouth inhibition. He likes quick sculpturing, which he thinks is the most direct way to express feelings. He feels that momentary emotional expression is the most real, and the dialogue with the spiritual world of the figures comes from the bottom of the heart. In his creation, the resolute expression of Jiao Yulu occurred to his mind. He created more textures around the eyes of the sculpture so that the image of the object bore the traces of age. This sense of vicissitude could not hide the firm belief revealed in the eyes. At the same time, he also used shadow and texture to express the character's illness. The sculpture vividly showcased the image of a public servant who is suffering a lot of pain but always harbours the persevering quality of a Party member.
In June of this year, Wu Dingyu created a deeply felt work of art called “Excellent Teacher.” The young teacher Li Fang died while saving her students. At her memorial, the Ministry of Education launched a call to learn from her. After seeing the news, Wu Dingyu felt that there was a spirit calling him and volunteered to create a sculpture of the teacher. Looking back at the creation, he said that he did not want to merely depict a hero but wanted to express the spirit of the teacher Li Fang. Therefore, the sculpture he chose to make portrays Li Fang spending a happy time with her students. It is purely an image of an ordinary teacher rather than a monument to a person keeping herself aloof. As Wu Dingyu understands it, Li Fang showed the dedication of a teacher who would sacrifice herself for students at a moment's notice and make instinctive judgments in an instant, demonstrating her humble and dedicated spirit. This kind of spirit lies in her caring for the students as if they were her own children and is essentially the same as Jiao Yulu's. Jiao Yulu had always said that he was the son of the people and ultimately dedicated his life to them. Therefore, there is common ground in the advanced spirit of public servant Jiao Yulu and teacher Li Fang.
Wang Dingyu has thought deeply about the process young artisans should follow when portraying these kinds of heroes. “For the statues of advanced figures, it is very important for young artists to find the right direction. In the process of creation, I learn to distinguish between right and wrong, what values we should live our lives by, which should guide us and which should give us direction. I know which advanced models should be praised, shaped and promoted and which spirit our young artists should pass on.” Wu said solemnly: “We must uphold the direction of the core values of socialism. At a time when art trends emerge, it is crucial to choose our own moral direction. Participating in creation witnessed by the people is a pragmatic spirit and a practice. We achieve perception through diligent efforts. It seems that the actual creation of an artwork takes less than two hours, but the whole process from preparation, creation, to the final communication and social feedback is, I believe, a big event in my mind and my life.”
At present, Wu Dingyu is creating a statue of John Rabe, the German businessman who worked tirelessly to save Chinese civilians during the Japanese occupation of Nanjing. Beijing Union University, where Wu teaches, is going to establish the John Rabe Beijing Exchange Centre, and the descendants of Mr. Rabe hope to erect a statue of him there. Wu got on well with the descendants of Mr. Rabe immediately. He believes that this is fate, because in the past, his tutor Wu Weishan made a statue of John Rabe which was praised by the legendary man's family. Now it is Wu Dingyu's turn to make a statue of Rabe, utilising the skills and ideals passed down from his teacher. “Teachers teach us not only technique and the expression methods of sculpture but also to a greater extent a kind of work state reflected in their mind and acts. This allows me to gradually understand the common ground of advanced figures. We give shape to these models and advanced figures because our society needs their exemplary spirit. They are the lodestar of society and the value and direction of my art.”
Creating Statues for Female Soldiers
“When I saw the introduction and photo of Senior-colonel Wang Yi, I thought she was so beautiful,” mentioned sculptor Zhou Simin from the Sculpture Department of the Central Academy of
Fine Arts, smiling. “It is meaningful for female sculptors to make sculptures of female soldiers. On the day of the event, we got along very well.” She added: “I am honoured to participate in the fifth session of the themed event for August 1. It is an honour to make a sculpture for a senior colonel and famous military writer, poet, lyricist and military culture critic. This event is also a rare learning experience for us engaged in sculpture art. If there is an opportunity, we will surely participate.”
In order to depict the style of contemporary female soldiers as completely as possible, Zhou Simin searched the Internet extensively for information on Wang Yi and read her articles and poems. Combining that with her own life experience, Zhou tried to enter the inner world of Wang Yi from an artist's point of view.
Perhaps because they are women and are engaged in sectors related to literature and art, the two rapidly became comfortable with each other at their first meeting. Zhou Simin said with a smile: “I am easy-going in nature. The colonel is also an outgoing and cheerful type, so it was very easy for us to build trust, and we have great communication.”
Before beginning to work, Zhou Simin deliberately explained the basics of sculpture to Wang Yi, including the stages of the whole process and how to finish a sculpture. Wang Yi quickly took a liking to sculpture and has her own understanding and aesthetics of this art. Wang also specifically asked Zhou about her academic experience, current work and life. Soon the two were like bosom friends who asked about each other after a long separation.
Zhou Simin began her on-site sketch for the sculpture during her chat with the other woman. First Zhou focused on the military uniform and collar worn by Wang, reflecting the salient features of contemporary female soldiers. It was hot at the end of July, and Wang still wore a thick military jacket while posing. At Zhou's suggestion, Wang took off her coat, revealing a simple camouflage half-sleeved T-shirt. Zhou thought Wang embodied natural heroism and drive, reminding her of a poem by Chairman Mao that goes: “Chinese people harbour great ambition, and female soldiers love the military and safeguard the country without giving excessive attention to their appearance.”
Zhou elaborated: “Wang Yi is a woman in the new era. She is the representative of contemporary female soldiers. Rather than using weapons to carry out the duties of defending the country, she shows her value as a servicewoman through her pen, her thoughts and her words. I analysed her character from the artistic point of view and entered her spiritual world to try to explain her inner mind in the form of sculpture. Although the sketching time was very short, I was able to seize the most important point beauty. This is a female soldier with external and inner beauty. To express this beauty, I must grasp the relationship between the neck and the head. Another important point is the eyes. In rendering the eyes, the black eyeball of the statue is slightly concave but not deep, creating a relaxed feeling. With the slightly upturned corners of the mouth and easy-going smile, the image is very infectious.” Speaking of sculpture work, Zhou Simin expressed her own perceptions of soldiers' beauty. “The beauty of male soldiers may be reflected by grandeur or solemnity. The beauty of female soldiers is both soft and forceful. This is their unique beauty and their unique temperament.”
Zhou Simin is one of China's earliest contemporary female sculptors. When studying at the Fine Arts School Affiliated to the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, she took an interest in sculpture and often went to the National Art Museum of China to see exhibitions. She had originally wished to learn printmaking, but in one exhibition, one of her teachers suggested that she study sculpture instead. At that time, women studying sculpture were few and far between. After consideration, she took the teacher's advice and embarked on the road of sculpture art. Today, more
and more girls study sculpture, and the power of women in the field is gradually growing.
Zhou Simin's creations have always had a realistic style. This realism is closely related to her schooling experience. After graduating from the Fine Arts School Affiliated to the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, she was sent to study in the former Soviet Union for seven years. Her tutor was one of the most famous sculptors in the former Soviet Union at the time. The works of her tutor were quite mainstream, mainly statues of illustrious people such as Pushkin and Chekhov. What most impressed Zhou was that her tutor personally experienced World War II and was involved in the Great Patriotic War from 1941 to 1945.
Zhou Simin said excitedly: “The war years are just a part of history for the younger generation, but for my tutor, it was his life. His work portrays and expresses his own life experiences. Sometimes we can't say that the revolutionary theme is not fashionable. That's just not true. You have to know the background of the story to have a real understanding of it. My tutor taught me a serious attitude towards creation. Why are the works of art he created so popular? Because his works have human nature. They are real. They do not only depict glory but also a true and complex picture of leaders. Throughout all of art history, whether it is Chinese or worldwide, an artwork will endure as long as it is truly beautiful.”
Pursuing beauty, true beauty, is the aim of Zhou Simin's art. She has made quite a few works with female subjects such as the young martyr Liu Hulan. This was part of her “Chinese Youth Series,” which also included a sculpture depicting the young Deng Xiaoping during his studies in France.
In the 1950s, many artists created works portraying Liu Hulan. When Zhou Simin was planning hers, she felt that she should have a different understanding than her predecessors. Therefore, she was inclined to highlight Liu's real age, emphasising that she was just a 15-year- old girl. Therefore, the sculpture of Liu Hulan made by Zhou is thinner than the familiar image in the public mind. Liu Hulan looks even slimmer as a result of the rope tied tightly around her thin and petite body. On the round base of the statue, she puts one foot forward firmly, rushing forth, showing her determination.
Zhou concluded: “I made an entire beautiful image of Liu Hulan. At the same time, I gave shape to her firm belief and the beauty of righteousness. I feel that when I make a work of art, I must grasp its representative moment and image. I have read the story of Liu Hulan and learned about her deeds. The moment she sacrificed her life is the most touching. It is the climax of life. In fact, in the new era, we have been making works along the themes of major historical and revolutionary events. This spirit must be passed on. As a teacher, what I do also affects my students. At the same time, contemporary art is diverse, covering all types of forms. I think at the very least, I am sending out real voices. I am most concerned with beautiful people, people with stories and interesting historical figures, so I feel I must adhere to my realistic style and bring beautiful works to the audience.”
Moulding a statue of a model teacher
A young sculptor makes sculptures.
Creating statues of outstanding figures
Role models and heroes who became the subjects of statues at the National Art Museum of China
Zhou Simin and her sculpture work
Sculpting for an elderly veteran at the National Art Museum of China