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Project to artistically record China's achievements bears fruit

By Lin Qi | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-19 10:08

The central part of a triptych painting by Chinese artist Zhou Zongkai, titled A Praise of Sanjiangyuan, recently displayed at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. [PHOTO BY JIANG DONG/CHINA DAILY]

From late 2017 to earlier this year, more than 140 artists from across the country attended five separate seminars in Beijing and Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

Their number included little-known career artists and noted figures who also teach at art schools. They were enrolled into the seminars as part of a national project launched by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2016, under which they were tasked with producing themed, realistic paintings and sculptures that reflect China's social, economic and cultural accomplishments over the course of the four decades of reform and opening-up. A total of 134 works had been completed by early this month, the ministry recently announced in Beijing.

Zhou Zongkai, an animation artist and professor of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing, was among dozens of attendees at the seminar held at China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. Zhou, who says he has been passionate about wildlife since his youth and has largely centered his artwork on environmental subjects, conceived an oil painting to address the national initiative of the ecological protection of Sanjiangyuan, the nature reserve in Qinghai province, which is the source of China's three great rivers - the Yellow River, the Yangtze River and the Lancang River.

Zhou created two drafts, each of which showed a panoramic landscape of Sanjiangyuan and a variety of the animals it accommodates. A panel consisting of artists, theorists and historians critiqued Zhou's work and they said, although he presented the ecological features unique to Sanjiangyuan, he failed to adequately demonstrate the efforts that people have made in the ecological conservation of the region.

In March 2018, Zhou traveled to Hoh Xil, the reserve now merged into the Sanjiangyuan national park, to seek inspiration.

"I was awed by the snow-capped mountains and breathtaking scenery, as well as the raging winds and chilliness," he recalls.

"The sight of wild donkeys, Tibetan antelopes and yaks struck me deeply, but more than that, I was touched by the heroic deeds of Sonam Dargye."

Sonam Dargye was a county official who led a rangers' team to patrol in Hoh Xil and protect wildlife from poachers. He was killed during a fierce confrontation with a poacher's gang in 1994 and hailed as a national hero. After his death, the story was widely disseminated to promote efforts to protect Hoh Xil and Sanjiangyuan.

Motivated by the trip, Zhou developed his work into a triptych: The central part depicts a team of rangers patrolling in the Sanjiangyuan national park, the left part shows villagers migrating from Sanjiangyuan to living accommodation outside the reserve to protect the area's ecology and the right part shows the tale of Sonam Dargye.

The central part of Zhou's triptych, titled A Praise of Sanjiangyuan, was shown at Great Journey, Splendid View, an exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, which ran from late September to early November, marking the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. More than 100 works, Zhou's painting included, which were commissioned as part of the project organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, were on show at the exhibition.

Themed works with a realistic approach to mirror social progress and people's livelihoods have remained an important genre in 20th-century Chinese art. They are warmly received among a wide population, especially at the grassroots of society.

"The creation of realistic art continues to play a significant role in hailing the spirit of the time in the country," says Fan Di'an, head of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, which also hosted one of the seminars for featured artists. "For example, works produced for the project portray a number of the heroes and role models who received national awards during the celebrations of the 70th founding anniversary, such as Yuan Longping, the 'father of hybrid rice', and Tu Youyou, the Nobel laureate credited with the discovery of the antimalarial drug, artemisinin."

Fan says government-backed art projects should continue, in order to boost the creation of artworks adopting the style of grand, historic narratives and documenting the achievements of Chinese people, as well as to encourage more talented artists to participate.

A selection of these works will be added to the collection of the National Art Museum of China for future shows, according to Zhu Di, head of the arts division of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. He says the project will be updated to encompass more themes, such as the 70th founding anniversary this year, and more artists will be commissioned to produce work on these subjects.

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