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(Chinese, b. 1963)
Pair of handscrolls; ink and color on Xuan paper
Painting only: 34.6 x 657.8 cm (13 5/8 x 259 in.); Painting only: 34.6 x 610.8 cm (13 5/8 x 240 1/2 in.)
The Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund 2012.99
The story was based on China’s South-North Water Transfer Project, a controversial undertaking that called for water diversion from the Yangzi River in the south to drier regions in the north.
Last Days of Village Wen is the story of a fictional place that in some ways appears like the setting of a retreat borrowed from classical Chinese painting. Gradually, however, you begin to see a mass of people moving with their belongings. As a viewer you travel through the scroll with the migrants; you participate in their unease.
This rustic scene rendered with broad brushstrokes and pale washes of ink and color provides the rural setting for an anticipated human drama. Does the depiction evoke a humble, carefree life in deep mountains and streams, as typically idealized by the Chinese scholar-gentleman of the past?
Away from their native soil, the migrants struggle to eke out an existence. To the artist, this is a contemporary tale. Uprooted and weightless, floating and swirling in voids, the migrants are swept away by violent winds. Peddlers snap up a cartload of miscellaneous tools for sale, but they are chased by a city official. Animals, monstrous beasts, and demons drift along. Ghosts and skeletons return, adding dimension to the human drama.
Shadows of history emerge; reminders of wars and revolutions surface. Violence and humiliation are enacted; threats and hazards are unleashed. The migrants can only float around with their lowly belongings. The landscape is transformed into a fantastical stage on which a daunting human drama is played out.
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