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From left to right: Ah Xian, China China – Bust 34 1999. Porcelain, underglaze paint, 42 x 40 x 22 cm. Ah Xian, China China – Bust 35 1999. Porcelain, underglaze paint, 40 x 39 x 21 cm. Ah Xian, China China – Bust 50 1999. Porcelain, underglaze and overglaze paint, 40 x 38 x 20 cm. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Jens Ziehe

Ah Xian's China China series of porcelain busts was begun in 1998. His works in this exhibition were produced in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, in collaboration with artisans from various studio-kilns around the city. Jingdezhen was the center of China's porcelain production in the early Ming, continuing into the Qing period when export wares to Europe became important for trade. In Ming times, Jingdezhen was reported to have three hundred kiln complexes, each with certain firing specializations. The techniques, styles, designs and glazes one sees in Ah Xian's busts are also evident in the selection of traditional works that are mainly from Jingdezhen. For example, the ubiquitous dragon design and underglaze cobalt blue glaze are just some of the commonalities between the traditional and contemporary works in this exhibition.

Ah Xian's sculptures in porcelain and more recently in lacquer and cloisonné represent Chinese artistic traditions, but technical and stylistic mastery are only one aspect of this exhibition. China Refigured also explores ideas of Chineseness or Chinese identity. In Ah Xian's work, casts of the human body are a background upon which he projects traditional Chinese decorative designs such as dragons, birds and flowers, and landscapes. By making these designs resemble tattoos, Ah Xian makes a statement about the indelibility of one's cultural background, all the more prominent in his work since his residence in Australia for the last twelve years.

These sculptures by Ah Xian establish a series of multilayered oppositions. The most overt is the tension between the sculptural form of the bust and the painted surface designs, which the artist likens to the oppositions of West and East. The bust is part of a Western portraiture tradition dating back to the busts of ancient Roman times and the designs are derived from Chinese decorative traditions, unique to China and in some cases to the studio-kilns at Jingdezhen. Such an opposition can also be seen as the relationship between the personal (since many of the busts are of Ah Xian's family, including his wife, brother, and father) and the political (a statement about the artist's own Chinese heritage articulated outside China).

Ah Xian was born in 1960 in Beijing and migrated to Sydney twelve years ago. He has held solo exhibitions in Asia, Australia, and Europe. www.asiasociety.org

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Ah Xian, China Series, 1997-1999. Porcelain body-cast, with hand painted underglaze and overglaze decoration © Courtesy of the artist

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Ah Xian, Head 1 (from 'China. China' series) 1997. Porcelain body-cast, with hand painted underglaze blue and overglaze decoration in yellow, orange and green © Courtesy of the artist

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Ah Xian, China China, 1999. Porcelain with under glaze blue and overglaze enamel © Courtesy of the artist

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Ah Xian (China/Australia 1960), China China – bust no.3 1998. Porcelain, cast from figure, with handpainted cobalt underglaze, reduction-fired red copper glaze and clear glaze; 30 x 32.5 x 21cm. The Kenneth and Yasuko Myer Collection of Contemporary Asian Art. Purchased 2000 with funds from The Myer Foundation, a project of the Sidney Myer. Centenary Celebration 1899-1999, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation. Collection: Queensland Art Gallery © Courtesy of the artist

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Detail of China Cina - bust 11' porcelain painted in overglaze iron red with lion design made by Ah Xian in Jingdezhen, China, 1999. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.

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Ah Xian, China, China – Bust 14, 1999. Porcelain in overglaze polychrome enamals with Four Seasons flower and butterfly design. 33 x 37 x 23 cm. Courtesy of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

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Ah XIAN, China China bust 15, 1999, porcelain cast porcelain with hand-painted underglaze decoration, 34.8 h x 36.6 w x 20.0 d cm. Purchased 2000. Accession No: NGA 2000.7. National Gallery of Australia. photo courtesy National Gallery of Australia

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Ah XIAN, China China bust 16, 1999, porcelain cast porcelain with incised and hand-painted glazed decoration, 33.4 h x 36.6 w cm. Purchased 2000. Accession No: NGA 2000.8.  National Gallery of Australia. photo courtesy National Gallery of Australia

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Ah Xian, China-Bust 18, 1999, porcelain with copper-red and cobalt-blue underglaze in landscape design, 38.1 x 33 x 22.9 cm. Purchased 2005. National Gallery of Canada (no. 41713) © Courtesy of the artist

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Ah Xian, Bust N°25 from the China, China series © Courtesy of the artist

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Ah Xian, China, China – Bust 35, 1999. Porcelain in underglaze cobalt-blue with flower and bird design, 34 x 39,5 x 22 cm. Courtesy of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

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China, China - Bust 35, 1999, porcelain with underglaze cobalt-blue; bird and flower design, 39 x 40 x 21 cm © Courtesy of the artist

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China, China - Bust 36, 1999 © Courtesy of the artist

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Ah Xian, China-Bust 43, 1999, porcelain with white paste-on-paste on sacrificial blue glaze in dragon and Chinese unicorn design, 45.7 x 40.6 x 25.4 cm. Purchased 2005. National Gallery of Canada (no. 41714) © Courtesy of the artist

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Ah Xian, China-Bust 54, 1999, porcelain with polychrome enamel overglaze in four deities and four seasons flower scroll design, 40 x 38 x 20 cm. Purchased 2005. National Gallery of Canada (no. 41715)

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China China – Bust 66 (detail) 2002, polychrome enamel on porcelain, 34.5 x 39.0 x 22.0 cm. Collection of the artist © Ah Xian

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China China - Bust 71 (2002), porcelain, 35.5 x 32.6 x 23.6 cm. Accession number:2006.182. Purchased with funds from the Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2006 © Courtesy of the artist

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China China - Bust 71 (detail) 2002, porcelain, 36.0 x 42.0 x 23.0 cm. Collection of the artist © Ah Xian

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Ah Xian (1960), China - Bust 72, 2002, porcelain in etched black-and-white with Antique Objects ('Bogu') design © Courtesy of the artist

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China China - Bust 73 (detail) 2002, polychrome enamel on porcelain, 40.0 x 39.5 x 22.0 cm. Collection of the artist © Ah Xian

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Porcelain bust by Ah Xian © Stowe Gallery

First one-man show in Europe
From 26 April 2008 to 7 September 2008, the five Period Rooms at the Gemeentemuseum form the setting for an exhibition of the impressive porcelain busts and life-size porcelain figures made by Ah Xian. Born in Beijing in 1960, the artist has lived and worked in Australia ever since 1989 but this is his first one-man show in Europe. Although he decorates his busts and full-body sculptures with traditional Chinese motifs like dragons, birds, flowers and landscapes, Xian’s work also relates to contemporary Western society.

Sydney
When Ah Xian emigrated to Sydney in 1989, it was initially to take part in an artist-in-residence programme there. In his home country he had been mainly a painter but in Australia he discovered porcelain (a material traditionally associated with China). He once explained the change by saying, “when you’re away from China, you have a clearer picture of the country and its culture.” Clearly, Xian exists between two cultures. The issue of identity is, of course, central to his work. How can an artist educated in a Chinese cultural context preserve his values and traditions while at the same time engaging with the contemporary world, which is dominated by Western values? The presentation in the Period Rooms will show that Ah Xian has found a unique solution to this problem.

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photos from www.flickr.com

Ah Xian - China, China @ GoMA

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