The Chinese-Australian art movement began to emerge in the 1980s, particularly around the time of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 when many Chinese artists fled the country and made their way to Australia.
The Chinese-Australian art movement began to emerge in the 1980s, particularly around the time of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 when many Chinese artists fled the country and made their way to Australia. Made in China, Australia brings together 16 Chinese-Australian artists from two generations and examines what it means to be a Chinese-Australian. Curator Greg Leong says that part of the curatorial intent was to look at how “complex the Chinese diaspora in Australia has been.” The exhibition, which coincides with this year’s OzAsia Festival, includes artists who were born in Australia as well as those who came as children and those who arrived as adults. “We are looking at the circumstances of them being Chinese-Australian. This could be defined by the place they were born, or if they weren’t born in Australia, when they came here, and then also where they came from.” In addition to this there is also an emphasis on the generational change – whether the artist was born 20 years ago, 40 years ago or even 60 years ago. By spanning two generations the exhibition represents the history of Australian-Chinese art. Before the early 1980s there weren’t a lot of prominent Chinese-Australian artists. Around the time of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, both before and after, there was an influx of Chinese migrants to Australia. Many of them came on student visas to learn English and refused to leave. “Partly because it was hard in China during those years and also for artists and other intellectuals it was a very oppressive time,” explains Leong. It was at this time that the Chinese- Australian art movement began to emerge as artists like Guan Wei and the brothers Ah Xian and Liu Xiao Xian (who feature in the exhibition) came to Australia. “For Ah Xian and Liu Xiao Xian they knew this was their opportunity to leave China – once they got here they refused to return.” The exhibition includes artists such as Lindy Lee and William Yang who were born in Australia (both in Queensland). Yang, who is the oldest artist in the exhibition, moved from Queensland to Sydney and became renowned for photographing famous people during the 70s and 80s such as Patrick White and Brett Whiteley. He also famously documented the Mardi Gras and more importantly the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. This then evolved into performance pieces in the late 80s where he explored issues of identity. In 1996 Leong fi rst saw Yang’s work Sadness in which he documents his own life growing up in Far North Queensland and juxtaposes this with the death of his friends and other gay people during the AIDS epidemic. “I was so stunned by it. I thought this was possibly the first work by a Chinese artist to make such an impact. To make people sit up and look at the Chinese in Australia.” Made in China, Australia also includes Tony Ayers’ video work showing the documentation of Yang’s work Sadness. Yang’s portraits of Lindy Lee and Liu Xiao Xian also feature in the exhibition, creating further connections. Leong has now seen the exhibition presented in four different venues and each time he sees something new. Connections like those between the work of Jason Wing and Zhou Xiaoping have only been observed since seeing the works hung opposite each other. On the one hand you have Wing’s works which include Wing Dynasty #2, a family snap shot of his two grandfathers, one Chinese and one Aboriginal and Registration, a colour chart depicting percentages of black and white referring to Wing’s “unease of straddling two cultures”. On the other hand Zhou Xiaoping’s work Sacred Black looks like Chinese scroll paintings but the subject is undeniably Aboriginal – it depicts a corroboree. Since moving to Australia in 1988 Xiaoping has spent a lot of time working with Aboriginal communities and in this work he has “expressed another culture, a culture that is not his through the cultural means of his own heritage”. Made in China, Australia celebrates contemporary Australian-Chinese art and depicts the different levels of impact this cultural identity has on a range of different artists. Leong hopes the exhibition helps viewers understand just some of what people experience in migrating to Australia and what they have to go through trying to assimilate and belong. OzAsia Made in China, Australia Artspace Gallery, Adelaide Festival Centre Saturday, August 31 to Sunday, October 20 ozasiafestival.com.au Images: 1. Chen Ping, General Petraeus, 2007 2. Chen Ping, Joypul 3. SEE, Place like home 4. Zhou Xiaoping, Sacred Black