Chinese-Australian artist Guan Wei creates witty works that comment on the relationships, convergences, and issues between the East and West, most notably China and Australia.Read More
Guan Wei was born in 1957 in Beijing. He graduated from Beijing Capital University's Department of Fine Arts in 1986. Wei was one of many young people who emigrated from China following the incidents at Tiananmen Square. In 1989, he relocated to Australia to undertake a residency at the Tasmanian School of Art.
In 2008, Wei set up a studio in Beijing. He divides his time between Beijing and Sydney.
Wei's work has often commented on the societies, histories, and cultural heritage of both China and Australia. Through the use of humour, Wei reflects on contemporary social issues faced by the two countries with regards to migration, identity, and exile.
The early 'Two-finger exercise' series (1989) embodies the artist's gravitation to witty and ambiguous interpretations of the political climate. In this work, Wei created a series of 48 cards painted with images of cartoonish, infantile faceless figures holding up their index and middle fingers. The gesture, which was used as a salute during the Tiananmen protests, also brings to mind the 'V for Victory' sign used during World War II, or the irreverent Australian 'up yours' gesture, which signals a disrespect for authority.
Behind each card, Wei inscribed short poetic subtitles referring to various interpretations of the V-sign. On one card he wrote, 'Tomorrow's leave is replaced by group practice of the V-sign, orders the chief. We're starving, but that's fine', as a commentary on groupthink and political propaganda. On another, he wrote, 'The bugs under the bodhi tree drive you mad with their bites. But if you give the V-sign, they'll have someone else in their sights'. This was a reference to the impact of carrying the Little Red Book or Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung as a form of protection.
Feng Shui (2004) is a large-scale painting composed of 120 individual panels installed together. This piece integrates Chinese ideals and beliefs of harmony and prosperity, expressing the relationship between man and nature. Ten white clouds are scattered across the scene, alongside illustrations of marine life, birds, and humans. Wei also depicts the direction of winds, through fluid lines that mimic climatic data. At the bottom left of the painting, he includes an image of the top half of Australia, while the top right features several ships, pointing to the British 'discovery' of the country.
Through this work Wei reflects on the concept of feng shui, addressing the need for balance and equality in nature and the planet to achieve happiness, while also reflecting on the influence of the West.
Plastic Surgery (2015) is a political self-portrait that comments on the changes that an immigrant undergoes to adapt to host societies. Composed of four canvases, the work depicts a series of faces and their alterations, from features to accompanying documents. Wei paints a black-haired Chinese man superimposed on a personal file owned by the government. The final transformation is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed man along with several documents: a Medicare card, ABN (Australian business number), bank account, and a certificate of Australian citizenship.
Guan Wei has held solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; White Box Museum of Art , Beijing; Greene St Studio, New York; and OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shenzhen.
Wei's work has been included in major international exhibitions including the Havana Biennial; Osaka Triennale; and Gwangju Biennale.
Wei's work has been collected by institutions such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales; Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing; and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Arianna Mercado | Ocula | 2022