Collection Online

Human human - Carved lacquer bust 3 - Flower and bird

resin, fibreglass, lacquer
45.4 × 46.0 × 28.0 cm
Place/s of Execution
Beijing, China
Accession Number
Australian Sculpture
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds from the Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2004
© Courtesy of the artist
Gallery location
Not on display
About the work

After settling in Australia in 1990 following the event in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, self-taught artist Ah Xian began to experiment with sculptural casts. This interest eventually led to his work with porcelain, and in turn, to the creation of his first porcelain busts in 1998.

To gain the expertise necessary for this difficult medium and to achieve the exacting standards it demands, Ah Xian travelled to Jingdezhen, the renowned centre of China’s porcelain production from the early Ming through to the Qing period. Working in collaboration with artisans from various studio kilns throughout the city, Ah Xian created porcelain busts modelled from plaster casts of real-life figures. He decorated these in glazes with traditional Chinese designs of dragons, birds, flowers and landscapes.

Executed in lacquer, Human human – flower bird represents the next phase in Ah Xian’s continued investigation of the traditional crafts of China. Despite the lure of the lustrous, seductive surface of this sculpture, the subject of Ah Xian’s ‘portrait’ remains unsettlingly removed from the viewer. Both the stillness of the work and the enforced silence of the sitter’s closed eyes and mouth create the sense that this anonymous man is almost imprisoned by the intricate decoration that tattoos and encases his body.

Human human – Flower and bird subtly embodies, in both its creation and physicality, the tensions and complexity that arise from questioning issues surrounding national and cultural identity.