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Visual Arts – Wenda Gu and Shayne Higson Essay

The influence of cultural experiences from different worlds has altered artists’ perceptions on their concept of depicting art, which is displayed in their series of artworks. Artists including Wenda Gu, Shayne Higson and William Kentridge demonstrate various aspects of the cultural world they live in such as their background, shown through their artist’s practice. Wenda Gu questions the distinction between cultural languages, race and gender in his artworks United Nation, 2001 and Forest of stone steles, 1993-2003.

Similarly, William Kentridge offers his experiences through the distinction and separation of people by their skin colours shown in his artworks Procession of the dispossessed, 1989 and Procession in the landscape with highmast, 1989. While Shayne Higson demonstrates her cultural world through her real life experience of the political issue that is occurring in Australia which is emerging in her artworks Unsuitable, 2000 and Give me Warmth, 2004.

These artists’ cultural experience significantly informs their practice through their artworks. Wenda Gu was born in china and graduated from the Shanghai school of Arts in 1979. He gained interest in the creation of unreadable calligraphy as he relates it to his lack of understanding towards most seal-style characters. Gu began to establish fake Chinese characters since he became inspired by the mistake he made, which lead him into creating an artwork that challenges the traditional medium through its monumental size and false ideograms.

His idea was to contrast it to the controlling traditions. However his artwork was not accepted to be revealed to the public as it showed no political messages like propagandas that benefits Chinese’s society. Due to his countries’ rejection, Gu left for America where he could actually experiment with his interests. Wenda Gu explored many issues relating to the concerns of cross cultural understanding and the changing of world cultures in response to globalisation.

These concepts are being displayed in his artwork ‘United Nations’, shown in the National gallery of Australia; where Gu uses human hair from different country and assemble it into translucent wall that is designed specifically for a country. The installation allows the audience to interact with the artwork as they deconstruct Gu’s idea and what he is trying to express. There was various way of interpreting his work, during that time global issues affect the way people decoded the artwork.

According to various countries, hair was seen as either their soul or a representation of power, while its colour reflects the multiculturalism in Australia. The installation also consists of scrolls that have a combination of Chinese seal script and other countries’ character, hung above the translucent screen, that was aim to provoke questions on cultural and racial divides. Another of wenda Gu’s installation ‘ Forest of stone steles’ is set up by having stone slabs being place on the floor and 162 ink rubbings all around the walls.

These pieces have calligraphies that he has once again created to challenge the notion of translation. The audience could easily misinterpret the characters as they are unreadable thus only shows the lack of cultural understanding. He uses script to give an idea of how he felt towards his cultural experiences through the importance of languages as it displays identity from individual’s style of writing. Chinese’s controlling tradition in art had shaped Wenda Gu’s concept of depicting identity as he questions it through text using calligraphy relating it to issues like translation and globalisation.


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