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Chinese-Australian artist Louise Zhang uses painting, sculpture and installation to explore a range of personal and cultural influences, including the religious background to her family upbringing and traditional Chinese symbolism.
Zhang, who lives and works in Sydney, grew up in a Christian family setting. Her painting You are forgiven (Lotus), 2020, features the symbolism of the lotus flower, which is associated with purity, rebirth and enlightenment in many Eastern religions. The text in the painting reads, ‘I forgive you/you are forgiven’ and references Zhang’s exploration of the notion of sin in relation to her religious upbringing. The work exemplifies Zhang’s methodology of researching cultural symbols and motifs as a way to explore her personal anxieties and experiences of navigating the world as, in her words, a ‘third culture kid’. In Devil’s lion, 2019, she also references a particular story from the Bible that haunted her as a child, where the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
The sculptural work Scholar mound study #3, 2019, is a playful interrogation of the traditional Chinese scholar’s rock, or Gongshi. Shaped by wind and water, these expressively shaped rocks were displayed like works of art and appreciated by Chinese scholars, who at the time were primarily male, for their ability to capture the creative energy force (qi 气) of nature. Zhang humorously subverts the sombre aesthetics of these Chinese scholarly accoutrements by injecting the form with a perceived feminine aesthetic of sugary colours and glittery surfaces.
Zhang has worked collaboratively with MECCA Brands on its Holiday 2020 limited-edition packaging and campaign, inspired by a shared love of vibrant colour. Since 2016, MECCA founder and co-CEO, Jo Horgan, and MECCA Brands have supported the NGV to acquire works by contemporary Australian female artists for the NGV Collection.
The NGV warmly thanks Jo Horgan and MECCA Brands for supporting the acquisition of these works.