Chinese contemporary art is a niche that galleries in Dubai have largely yet to explore. But ‘Middle East, Middle Kingdom’, which opens on September 19 at Gallery Etemad, aims to bridge the gap. This exhibition is a conglomeration of China’s most cutting-edge artists, providing a unique and sometimes controversial insight into the struggles faced today in modern China.
Show curator Pia Camilla Copper, a 37-year-old Chinese art specialist from Canada, says that while many of the works centre around the country’s past, she would also like people to recognise the unique new mediums being explored and the incredible ability of the artists.
What relevance do you think this exhibition has in Dubai?
Much like Dubai, China has become a thriving modern metropolis in a very short time, with all the attributes of a modern technological society. A lot of these artists are dealing with the social issues that change represents.
How did you choose the artists for this exhibition?
It’s hard to present a multifaceted portrait of a society and culture in a few artists’ works. I tried to choose artists that are talking about what’s changing in China and also about Chinese culture, approaching their work from a truly Chinese perspective.
Many of the works touch on the overlap between technology and traditions…
Yes, I think the loss of traditional culture is a real concern in China. Young artist Han Bing [work pictured, left] has done a series of photos called The New Culture Movement. In the past, the Chinese communist government’s promise was to give everyone a brick so they would be able to build their own home. These people still have a memory of this promise and they held the bricks with incredible nationalism and pride. It’s touching because you wonder what has lasted of the old society – what is the new society really giving these people? Are they happy?
How many of the artists have been personally affected by the Cultural Revolution?
I’d say all of them. But if you look at someone like Qiu Jie [right], he has been extremely influenced by Mao because his work is inspired by the political propaganda. I think aesthetically, communism was a great inspiration for these artists.
Are you seeing any new mediums being explored in China?
Yes. I didn’t want to present an outdated condition of art in this show, and I think the Chinese artists have used exceptionally technological media. Hung Tunglu has done these hologram paintings [pictured, top] that are like photos, almost manga-like. To see them is to feel as though you’re entering into something – it’s like 5D, if you will. It’s a really fun way of looking at art. Buddhism is very important in China and these holograms are almost like a session of Buddhist mediation.
What do you want people to learn from this exhibition?
I’d really like people to get a glimpse of what’s happening in China today. The art reflects the changes; it went from an extremely classic society to a modern society. I hope that people in Dubai will use it as food for thought: we mustn’t lose the precious traditions of the past to move toward the future.
‘Middle East, Middle Kingdom’ continues at Gallery Etemad until November 12.
Artist in focus
Qiu Jie, 50, from Shanghai
Can you describe your work?
‘Mao in Chinese also means cat. So, this drawing is either the communist president or a cat, whichever you prefer! The drawing is a play on words and a game at the same time.’
What makes you proud to be Chinese?
‘Five thousand years of history and Chinese characters. I’m proud that such an ancient culture is coming to terms with modernity. It’s like a very old tree growing new branches.’
Exhibition: ‘Middle East, Middle Kingdom’ until November 12 at Gallery Etemad (04 346 8649).
Artists: Gao Brothers, Qiu Jie, Hung Tunglu, Han Bing, Chen Hangfeng, Liu Dao, Wang Ziwei.
Price range of works: Dhs12,850 to Dhs165,290.