‘THE PALETTE’: Young Chinese Artists Create Meaning in a Diverse World
Co-presented by annex Space and United World College (UWC) Changshu China, “The PALETTE” is a new art exhibition in Shanghai showcasing paintings, installation art, photography, sculptures, and 3D models created by students from UWC.
These artworks illustrate how the interplay and fusion of diverse cultures give rise to new artistic styles and concepts, while reflecting the artists’ attempts to explore their identity and personal significance against the backdrop of multiculturalism. The exhibition runs until Sept. 1 with free admission.
The young artists featured in this exhibition represent a generation who were raised in an international environment and influenced by cultural diversity that shaped their worldviews. These emerging artists navigate different cultural terrains through active learning, mutual respect, and self-development, enabling them to embrace the diversity of the world with an open mind.
Some of the works on display
To the Heart
60cm x 80cm
Navigating the collision of ideas and cultures can often lead to a sense of disorientation and a loss of one’s original motivation. But by following one's heart steadfastly, even in moments of uncertainty, the flower of hope will bud and blossom, reaching for the sun with unwavering vitality.
Engulf at the Liver
80cm × 60cm
The pervasive culture of chasing quick success and immediate benefits can erode one’s well-being. In the relentless and cut-throat competition of life, people inadvertently inflict harm upon their health as they crave success and happiness despite good intentions. Set against the vivid backdrop of the picture, a liver marred by scars takes center stage, reflecting one’s struggle with desire and anxiety. Only when we become attuned to our fatigue and declining health do we realize the futility of expecting flowers to blossom when nurtured improperly.
Castle or Cage?
40cm × 50cm
Within this castle’s walls where an air of tranquility and peace pervades, even though everyone seems to be going somewhere, no one is getting anywhere as they only focus on the path ahead without realizing the castle’s design is a Möbius strip. Limited by their own perspective, they remain oblivious to the big picture, entrapped within this castle’s circular labyrinth that takes them on a perpetual journey to nowhere. Were you one of them, would you raise your gaze to appreciate the castle’s intrinsic beauty, or would you let it confine your thoughts like a cage?
“What they never told you is that when you are 11 years old, you are also ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one. All the years before you turn 11 are what make you an 11-year-old.” In this work, the outermost layer acts as a protective shield, while the middle part symbolizes the discord that conceals one’s true self. Deep within lies the innermost layer, inviting the audience to reflect on and reconnect with their original nature.
15cm x 25cm
Digitalization has ushered progress into our lives. Yet, a realization often escapes many: it’s not information that’s undergoing digitization; human beings are as well. This artwork shows a sapling maturing into a towering tree, transforming subsequently into Arabic numerals, and ultimately dissolving into binary code. This sequence symbolizes the tragedy of people losing their grip on their sense of humanity.
70cm x 50cm
Xiao Wo, which literally means “little snail,” is the artist’s favorite cartoon character that represents the innocence of her childhood. Yet, the relentless tide of external culture exerts its force to make Xiao Wo transform to escape destruction. For girls dreaming of liberating their captive mind, they will eventually break free to express themselves on the canvas after trials and tribulations.
70cm x 50cm
An elephant adorned with intricate paisley patterns makes its way in the beautiful tropical rainforest. The majestic creature represents peace, while the paisley pattern it wears is a symbol for regional culture. Together, they represent the beauty born from the interweaving of diverse cultures.
All About My Memories
Comprising a fusion of elements including sika deer skull fossils, Tibetan seals, jade vessels, bronze figures, Buddha statues, old faucets, and Roman columns, this artwork is inspired by different cultures. The reconstruction of the deer’s broken antlers intertwines with artifacts of different regional civilizations, simulating how people living in different regions and historical periods imagine the same things through the lens of their unique cultural contexts. The artist’s restoration of the fossil presents the futility of historical construction. In the process of archaeological and historical restoration, it seems that human beings can never jump out of their current culture and lifestyle to retrieve the true past.
This artwork grants the audience a multidimensional glimpse into the pain and torment experienced by highly sensitive people. Such heightened sensitivity serves as both a blessing and a burden, deeply embedded in their psyche. The interlocking frames stand as a metaphor for those yearning to integrate with the outside world yet grappling with uncertainty on where to begin, thus enclosing their sensitive and vulnerable selves.
Library of Fathom
The architectural design draws inspiration from the tulou earthen buildings in Fujian province and the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. The combination of traditional Chinese architecture and modern western minimalism displays cultural diversity, as well as how different cultures can be passed on through fusion and adaptation. This artwork aims to find a balance between traditional and modern architectural motifs, melding them into a composite that can be accepted by the modern mind, while honoring the legacy of Chinese culture.
Sun Youqiao, the exhibition’s curator, said the young generation growing up in an era of burgeoning diversity have encountered a plethora of cultures even before their worldviews have crystallized, leaving them with a sense of displacement as they haven’t fully developed their self-awareness. But she saw many people fumbling for their own sense of belonging at UWC, where cultures meld together like the vibrant hues on an artist’s palette, finding a new life through intersection, collision, collapse, and integration.
Through the medium of art, Sun wants to show the outside world how international students fashion their own interpretations of cultures and search for their identities.
Translator: Wu Yichen; editors: Xue Ni and Elise Mak.