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Partnership brings Chinese sculptor’s work to Western for first stop on Canadian tour

Liu Shiming Art Foundation also funding scholarships to increase awareness of modern Chinese art

Looking at Each Other Through the Cage was sculpted by Shiming in 1990. (ArtLab Gallery photo)

Sculptures created by one of the most influential modern Chinese artists are now on display for the first time ever in Canada, at an exhibition in the ArtLAB Gallery at Western.

In the Heart of the Bronze: A Liu Shiming Experience showcases 25 bronze artworks crafted by the late renowned Chinese sculptor, Liu Shiming.

The exhibition at Western is the first leg of a nationwide tour. Organizers say it gives audiences the opportunity to engage with non-Western artforms and provoke deeper questions around the purpose of art and how we engage with other cultures. 

Liu Shiming

Shiming (1926-2010) is a revered sculptor in China and around the world, whose works have made a distinct impact on the course of modern Chinese sculptural arts.

He became an inspiration to other artists for his commitment to his craft and determination to produce art that went against the collective vision of the country during the 1960s and ’70s. At a time when art in China had a singular voice and was used as a tool to represent power and authority, Shiming retreated to the countryside to create works that evoked the daily life of farming and agriculture and referenced the hands of the developing nation.

The sculptures have been displayed in prominent galleries and spaces across the globe, including exhibitions in Beijing, Washington D.C., and most notably a special exhibition in the main atrium of the Oculus, New York City, in January 2020.

In 2018, the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing founded the Liu Shiming Sculpture Museum, dedicated to researching and investigating Liu’s artworks and their historical significance.

The exhibition was born out of a recently developed partnership between Western’s department of visual arts and the Liu Shiming Art Foundation, founded in 2021 to preserve his works and advance global discourse on the arts, history and culture.

PhD student Ashar Mobeen is curating the exhibition. (Jennifer Martin photo)

Ashar Mobeen, a second-year PhD student in art and visual culture, was drawn by the opportunity to curate the exhibition as he was able to work closely with the Shiming Foundation to introduce the works of Shiming and other modern Chinese artists to a Canadian audience. 

Mobeen said it is imperative that undergraduate students are introduced to other artforms, in addition to the Western canon.

“Through this exhibition, audiences can better understand the valuable contributions made by Chinese sculptors to the global sculpture scene. It is important to understand the longstanding rural artistic traditions of China, and how local experiences shaped the modernization of Chinese sculpture,” he said. 

Mobeen comes to the program with an undergraduate degree in science, focusing on astrophysics and astronomy. Through his undergraduate studies, he began to realize the parallels between his studies in visual arts and sciences and felt a strong pull to continue in the visual arts stream through his master’s and doctoral studies. His curatorial interests have taken root over this past year with several projects at the ArtLAB Gallery and across campus. 

Dream to Fly was sculpted by Shiming in 1982.

“Through our collaboration with the Liu Shiming Art Foundation, we have been able to provide Ashar with an incredibly valuable opportunity to engage in cross-cultural dialogues, while also gaining practical experience in terms of curating an exhibition of work at this calibre,” explains ArtLab director Liza Eurich.

“Ashar has been instrumental in developing the framework for this show, as well as undertaking supplemental programming that will include a conversation with artist Yam Lau and a forthcoming publication,” Eurich said.

Folk Singer was sculpted by Shiming in 2006.

The partnership between Western and the foundation also supports scholarships for emerging artists and undergraduate students. Third-year studio arts student Kate Murphy is this year’s recipient of a scholarship from the foundation. She was drawn to Western from her hometown of Port Lambton, Ont. “I saw the artistic opportunities and gallery spaces and I knew I wanted to come here,” Murphy said. “This scholarship was such an honour to receive and has benefited me in contributing to my tuition and art supply fees. This has let me continue to create and follow my artistic and academic goals here at Western.”

“When we were initially approached by the foundation we were honoured and curious,” said department chair Alena Robin. “It is a great opportunity for our students to appreciate Chinese art. We are grateful to the foundation for this new partnership and I also want to thank the visual arts colleagues who worked tirelessly to make the exhibition project a reality.” 

The ArtLAB Gallery welcomes visitors to view the exhibition on display until Nov. 16. Further information is available here.

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