“In India, art is very pure. The artist works very hard to bring out what he feels. But in Beijing and Shanghai, art is sometimes like business,” says Chinese artist Zhu Jing Yi.
“I visited galleries in Mumbai and saw some very interesting modern art. Indian art is so different from what I have seen so far,” says Zhu, a contemporary artist who lives in Shanghai.
The mixed media artist, whose works have been exhibited in shows all over China, is in Kochi as part of his tour of India with wife Pecy Chen. Besides enjoying the country’s tourist locales, Zhu is also on a mission to understand art in India. Zhu regularly writes and his travel around India has given him plenty to write about. He visited galleries and studios in Mumbai and interacted with artists too, with a little help from his wife who translates difficult sentences from English for him.
His decision to travel to India was inspired by the books he had read on art and philosophy by Indian writers. Having seen a little bit of India over the last week, what impressed him most was the country’s diversity and colour. “Women and girls wear such colourful clothes here. You can’t do that in Shanghai. If you do, they will look down on you. Only town people wear colourful clothes there,” he says.
Differences aside, Zhu feels that there is much that the art worlds in India and China could learn from each other. “The language of art in Asia is very different from the West. Tradition is very important in both our countries. Contemporary art is the same all over the world. But art from India and China is unique. To go a long way ahead, you must go back to tradition,” says the artist, who has also served as art director at several art fairs and exhibitions.
Zhu’s own work is a mix of traditional media and contemporary styles.
He was trained in traditional painting techniques at Nanjing University, but uses various media to create contemporary art pieces. In some of his works, he uses traditional Chinese ink painting techniques to paint abstract images in modern style.
In his three-dimensional paintings, thick acrylic and resin transform into an inky, ethereal image.
It is this confluence of cultures and styles that he thinks makes India
In the last 10 years, artists like him who embraced new forms have become the face of modern Chinese art. Like India, China too is increasingly seen as a growing influence in the modern art world.
But Zhu is aware that people outside see the Chinese government as a body that censors what artists have to say.
“It is not like that. Cities like Shanghai are very open. But even in Shanghai, the government sends a person to see every exhibition. There are about 20 exhibitions and the government checks all of them.”
As long as the artist stays away from politics and sex, they are free to do what they like, he says. “But that’s alright because young people don’t care about politics,” Pecy quips.