New exhibition at East Asia Library: "Traversing China's Multiethnic Passage -- Jingui Zhang's Solo Art"

May 24, 2019
Joshua Capitanio
Jingui Zhang

From June 6, 2019, to November 30, 2019, the East Asia Library will feature a new exhibition entitled "Traversing China's Multiethnic Passage: Jingui Zhang's Solo Art."  An opening reception will be held on the evening of June 6, 2019.

This exhibition is curated by Dr. Yanshuo Zhang, Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, who has described Jingui Zhang's work as follows:

In the vast multiethnic land of southwest China, there reside many minority groups. The renowned Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong called the intersections between Sichuan, Yunnan, and Tibet China’s “ethnic passage,” which is home to a multitude of non-Han groups such as the Qiang, Yi, and the Tibetans. Mr. Jingui Zhang, a graduate of Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, also a native of Sichuan, has devoted over thirty years in studying and artistically depicting the multiethnic cultural heritages of this unique region. This solo exhibition showcases a collection of original oil paintings that Mr. Zhang created in the culturally diverse regions of southwest China. With both realistic and poetically rendered contemporary styles, Mr. Zhang unveils the mysterious historical and cultural legacies of the non-Han peoples of southwest China, illuminating their unique cultural and natural wonders. 

Artist and educator Jingui Zhang often travels alone into the multiethnic regions of southwest China, expediting into the little-known minority villages. Through such journeys, Mr. Zhang seeks to locate the roots of diverse Chinese cultures and art. Mr. Zhang discovers and depicts multiethnic cultures such as the Qiang culture. The Qiang, one of the oldest ethnic entities in China, have been imbricated with Chinese civilization since antiquity. Mr. Zhang’s artistic depictions help record and revive the legendary Qiang culture in a rapidly globalizing China. In 2008, the giant Sichuan earthquake destroyed a significant portion of Qiang cultural heritage, particularly its distinctive architecture. 

Mr. Zhang has been ardently studying and portraying Qiang cultural heritage in the past three decades. In some of the artworks shown here, such as “Ancient Qiang Village” and “The Castle of Qiang Village,” Mr. Zhang adopts either a realistic or an impressionistic style to reveal the architectural wonders and cultural details of the Qiang. As a migratory people trying to evade warfare, the Qiang developed an architectural style that is subdued in its color schemes with mostly earthly, neutral tones. Mr. Zhang’s oil paintings, which were created directly on the site of the village, convey the historical weight and material culture of an ethnic “heterotopia”—a place with a different but familiar culture, which reflects but also questions our understanding of “Chinese culture.”

Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, a land blessed with breathtaking natural beauty and dazzling ethnic diversity, is home to various “branches” of ethnic Tibetans. It is also where Mr. Zhang sets out to depict Tibetan cultural and historical heritages. Particularly, this exhibition showcases Mr. Zhang’s portrayals of Tibetan architectural wonders, such as the “chieftain mansions,” which served as the official residences of local Tibetan chieftains and inspired such Chinese literary achievements as Tibetan author Alai’s award-winning novel, Red Poppies (尘埃落定). Whether through the painting “Soul of Zhuokeji (The Kham Tibetan Official Mansion)” or “Early Summer in a Tibetan Village,” Mr. Zhang uses impressionistic touches to evoke the historical imagination of these sites. He abandons a faithful depiction of the realistic details of these structures in favor of a semi-abstract, dreamy atmosphere that invites contemporary re-interpretation of these historical mansions and villages. Indeed, chieftains ruled local societies for centuries and served as an important liaison between local Tibetans and Han/Sinic Chinese political centers.

Even though contemporary Chinese art has come a long way, and the enthusiasm for searching the roots has dwindled for many Chinese artists in favor of novel subject-matters and artistic genres, Mr. Zhang has persevered in his endeavors to depict Chinese cultural diversity. His artistic innovations to blend historical realities with impressionistic touches and poetic ambiences not only offer a visual journey into China’s multiethnic identity, but also leaves spaces for discussion about the future of Chinese art. In our era of rapid globalization dictated by technological advancements and China’s increasing involvement in international affairs, how can the material culture of ethnic and racial minority peoples offer us lessons about preserving our past and guarding our cultural traditions? How can we converse with diverse historical and cultural legacies? Mr. Zhang’s paintings invite contemplations on these fronts through his visual poetry of the architectural and cultural wonders of multiethnic China. 

For more information on the exhibition, please visit Stanford Events.

An opening reception featuring remarks from Dr. Zhang will be held on June 6 from 5:00 - 7:00 PM at the East Asia Library, room 224.  Light refreshments will be served.  Please visit Stanford Events for further information.