Prominent Chinese artist Yuan Xikun says that during the tumultuous times of the Cultural Revolution, “to escape the meaningless fight between people” he went off and lived in the wilderness like Robinson Crusoe.
Even though he had been selected to stay in the city to paint the portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong, Xikun requested to be sent off to rural Xishungbanna. Life in the wilderness provided fodder for his paintings. In particular an encounter with a tiger at close range had a major impact on him, influencing his art.
His paintings of tigers are many; specially striking is one titled ‘Mountain Gentleman’ of a tiger’s unflinching stare in an Oriental Canvas.
“When I came across it in the forest it became a staring match and then luckily it walked away,” says Xikun, speaking through a translator at a talk he gave Monday night at the National Art Gallery. The new Chinese Ambassador to Maldives Yu Hongyao and Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture Mamduh Waheed attended the talk along with Maldivian artists.
The tiger connection
Eleven paintings by Xikun, of tigers in various poses, were on display at the art gallery. One of a small Chinese boy next to a docile tiger lying on its paws is aptly titled ‘Tiger tamed by boy with magic powers.’ The magnificent creature evokes sympathy in the viewer in the painting titled ‘Waiting for home’ a forlorn tiger seen through the bars of its cage.
The tiger is also what has lead Xikun to come to Maldives. Xikun, who is also a world-renowned sculptor, is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Patron for the Environment and Arts. UNEP uses Xikun’s sculptures for its environmental Champions of the Earth trophies – one of which was received by President Mohamed Nasheed.
A keen environmentalist, Xikun says it was inspiring to see the President doing something about carbon emissions.
A tall striking figure, Xikun took the attendees through his work via a power point presentation while talking animatedly in Chinese.
“You might ask why bring paintings of tigers to an Oceanic country. The thing is sharks share a similar destiny to tigers in the environment.” Xikun regularly uses his art to highlight threats to the environment and remind the viewers that the Earth’s resources are finite.
A miniature of his famous sculpture, ‘Urgency of the polar region’ was also on display. The sculpture of a mother polar bear balancing a top an iceberg with its two young cubs clinging to its side highlights the dangers of the melting icebergs.
“Religion and art are all connected to nature, this earth and its biodiversity is not an inheritance of our forefathers but is borrowed from our offspring,” said Xikun, and reiterated his call “for all human beings to achieve supreme kindness and to live in harmony with nature.”
Xikun says it is in recent years environmental awareness has become such a large part of his philosophy infusing his work. Though his interest in painting ink wash portrait of foreign dignitaries and leaders had also earned him the title of ‘portrait diplomat’. So far he has painted over 152 portraits including that of Nelson Mandela.
His sculptures have often been presented as national gifts by the Chinese government to other countries. Notable among them is a gift to America, the sculpture of former president Abraham Lincoln, titled ‘Before the Decisive Battle-Lincoln.’
He has also produced sculptures of Einstein and Gandhi, along with 158 world leaders in politics and arts. Xikun is also the founder and curator of the first private museum in China, the Jin Tai Art Museum in Beijing.
A firm believer of cultural exchange, Xikun says “we are all live under one common sky and we will all face the environmental crisis, so I hope one day there is a mass movement for environmental protection.”
Xikun is gifting the three miniature sculptures he brought to Maldives. Among them is one titled ‘Sky patch.’ After the talk he explained that the sculpture of a woman carrying a rectangle block in her outstretched arms had originated from a Chinese myth about a goddess that blocks a hole in the earth.
“This is relevant to today’s times because we have a desire to do something about the environmental problems we face.” The other sculpture is that of Napoleon holding on to St Helena.
Plans are on to collect sand from five continents and water from the two Arctic Poles to do a giant sculpture of ‘Sky patch.’
Xikun will meet the President on on Wednesday, to discuss the project and gift the sculptures. Xikun extended an invitation to everyone to “come for the sand collection, to be part of the sculpture project.”
8 thoughts on “Chinese artist Yuan Xikun exhibits in the Maldives”
How can an ignorant populace understand art and the artist’s indented massage?
The same way an ignorant populace can comment on an online forum. We just wing it and say any old thing that comes to mind.
most forms of art are haraam in Islam because it is a frivolous activity which does not do tremendous good to human kind. if you follow the news about art auctions where paintings get sold off for thousands of dollars, it just strikes you as obscene how huge amounts of money are wasted on vanity.
remember the baamiyaan buddhas the Taliban blasted? that happened because some western ngos tried to send art preservation experts to care for the buddhas while the fighting was raging around. they were more concerned about preserving stone carvings while fellow human beings were starving. that's why the local taliban commander decided to blast it.
what was that about an indented massage? sounds like a fetish. and a super painful one at that. you're a strange beast hassan.
this is true.
"It's times like these I wonder what keeps me going! I was among the few who went through thick and thin to make this Artist Talk all possible for the Maldivian Community. The three who commented on the news article and many more out there, have you no consideration for the people who had to actually bust their asses day and night to make this opportunity all possible for you? Did you stop to appreciate the poor drivers from the President's Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and MNDF who were on standby at all hours of the day to escort twenty-two delegates back and forth? Did you stop to appreciate the old woman from the National Centre for the Arts who had to clean and mop the National Art Gallery all by herself for the Artist Talk? We suck as a community! Wake up and realise that!"
No - I have no appreciation for them. In fact, they must be garroted on the spot for promoting the frivolous activities of the infidels!
The Ayatu'llah Khomeini, may his name ever be praised, would not have tolerated such nonesense.
I think all of you are wrong....in fact, an artist with the awareness is much better than those who don't. He will use his valued art to be auctioned and use the benefit to support the local environmental projects in your country...if you guys are friendly enough....
Don't trust the developed countries because they will use Maldives as the tool.....once their goals were achieved, Maldives will be sacrificed....so be friendly and open to all the possible opportunities to build the thoughtful and in-depth dialogue and diplomacy with those people who share the same mission with us but not share the same skin color and background.....
Also, this is a great opportunity for promoting the cross cultural understanding.....Maldivian artists could show island art to China and other big countries and they must be really unique....
So let's forget our prejudice, misfortune in the past while opening the arms to embrace new friendship and opportunities. Remember......opportunities are not there to await us,,,, we can create new opportunities....
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