Dressed in 18th-century European garb, Claire Partington’s ornate figures tap into a classical form of collectible art popular with European elites in the 18th and 19th centuries. Notice the twist here: Each of these figures is a hybrid animal with interchangeable heads. These figures allude to the sinister side of British history: Colonialism and rigid social hierarchies.
The following is an excerpt from an essay in Teaching Contemporary Art with Young People by Julia Marshall.
Contemporary art’s engagement with the present is often informed by the past and shaped by what it has inherited from the past. Contemporary artists engage the past in a couple of different ways. First, they excavate history, and second, they use visual language and cultural cues from the past.
Huang Yong Ping
Fifty Arms of Buddha fuses two iconic images from two cultural traditions to show contrast and commonality between them while he comments on the global reach of Western culture.
Marcel Duchamp’s Bottle Rack (1917) is a Dada icon of modern Western art (see also Chapter 1). Huang Yong Ping puts the many arms of a Buddha (a common image in Buddhist art, symbolizing spiritual powers) on Duchamp’s Readymade rack. In doing so, he draws on an icon of his native China and the notoriety of Duchamp’s rack to comment on the collision of East and West in our globalized world. Going deeper, Huang connects the spiritual images of faith and religion to the icons of Western secular art, suggesting that both are objects of veneration, reflecting the cultures and mind sets from which they came.
Huang Yong Ping
Fifty Arms of Buddha
In Search of Venus (infected)
Lisa Reihana applies new technologies to vintage illustration to retell and animate history from an indigenous perspective. Wallpaper comes alive in Lisa Reihana’s monumental (80-foot-long, 64-minute-long) video “scroll” depicting the incursion of Captain Cook into the Pacific Islands. Based on the 19th-century wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (Native Peoples of the South Pacific,1804–1805), which romanticizes and exoticizes these island “paradises,” this video includes live-action vignettes set against a lushly illustrated background. This moving tableau retells the stories depicted in the original wallpaper paintings, but this time through a critical, clear-eyed lens of a New Zealand native.