Friday, 9 May 2014

East and West Are Joined in a Celebration of 'Love & Peace'

This past winter, the Today Art Museum in Beijing welcomed a brand-new solo show of my latest paintings and sculptures, called Wonderland. It was such an incredible experience: Wonderland was the largest exhibition of a European artist's work in the museum's history and by far the most remarkable opportunity I've had to show my work within Asia. Visitors took photos beside the red Love poppy and topaz Peace water lily sculptures at the exhibition's centerpiece, adding a beautiful chapter to the traveling Love & Peace Campaign's story as a global art installation.
View of Ana Tzarev's Wonderland exhibition, Beijing, China. 2014.
As a result of Wonderland's warm reception in Beijing and beyond, I was invited to have my works featured in the third annual Xinjiang Biennale, a flourishing art festival in China's Urumqi region. The title for this year's Biennale is 'Encountering: New Art on the Silk Road'; it aims to foster an exchange of ideas and of creativity between nations in the tradition of European and Asian cultures mixing along the historic trade route for which it was named.
The concept is one that resounds today, in a world growing more globalised with every moment. Because of this, I believe that there is truly no better time to be an artist than in the present age. Contemporary creators have opportunities to share their work that no era in history can rival. A fluid and ever-changing open forum of exchange and production has begun to replace the traditional notion of 'art centers'; as technology grows and connects us, all are invited to participate in a living, breathing art world.
With these changes come new challenges. As our works reach farther, we are called to adapt our means of expression so that the meaning of our effort is not lost in translation. Artists are communicators, the most powerful of whom can send messages across any and all boundaries.
Tzarev's aquamarine Peace water lily, on view at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris through 24 May. © photo: Clément Duquenne
I have found that flowers provide a perfect language of expression for my art. In my eyes, they are the essential symbol of peace and goodwill - in their beauty and grace lies infinite understanding that requires no words. Free of politics, religion, and nation, all mankind can see a brilliant bloom and feel the same sense of tranquility.
When I paint and sculpt, I imagine that I am creating a sanctuary for those who will see my works - a place of welcoming open to all, regardless of country. It was so rewarding to learn that Wonderland's curator, Peng Feng, Ph.D., sees that within my work, and I am grateful for his words:
"Ana's works transcend difference not just between East and West, but between all cultures. In this sense, her art is a new kind of art for the globalised era, and appreciation of this new art form is not subject to cultural restrictions. That is why her exhibitions have so deeply touched audiences on all continents."
It is an honour to have been selected as a participant in this year's Xinjiang Biennale, and I am so thankful that my voice will be found among those present in its dialogue between nations. I send my sincere thanks to the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China for granting me the opportunity to participate in this fantastic celebration of global culture, and to Peng Feng for championing the idea of an art world made more beautiful through harmony and acceptance.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A Letter of the Spirit: Using Art to Let Love and Peace Resound

Ana Tzarev's Peace water lily, Beijing.
Since 2012, I have committed to an ambitious, challenging, and incredibly rewarding endeavor, the crux of my career as an artist: I wish to fill all corners of the world with flowers, making a beautiful bouquet to be shared by every nation. This project is called theLove & Peace Campaign.

I began by sculpting large poppies out of fiberglass and planting them in public spaces around the globe, from England and Italy to Singapore and China. In January of this year, I introduced my first water lily sculpture to the world, premiering in Beijing at the Today Art Museum. These flowers, I hope, will give people the world over common ground for conversation, offering sanctuary from life's chaos.
I am blessed to have found support for the Campaign in some remarkable individuals.Peking University's Professor Peng Feng and Kathie Bolognese of the US National Committee for UN Women, for instance, have been invaluable partners in carrying the vision of Love & Peace into public view. Without the aid and faith of others, this dream could never be realized.
There are so many bright spirits who tirelessly pursue the promise of a better world for all. Today, few shine brighter than His Holiness Pope Francis, whose efforts to create a more inclusive and loving Church have echoed beyond the Catholic community - the world at large has been left better for it.
His Holiness recently stated, "...We are called to give witness with joy to this message: the gospel of life, the gospel of light, of hope and of love, because the message of Jesus is this: life, light, hope, love." The Love & Peace Campaign was born of this spirit, an offering of caritas to open hearts.
I was moved by His Holiness' words, and wrote him the following letter, which I now share with you:
Your Holiness, 
My name is Ana Tzarev, and I am an artist who has been deeply touched and moved by your words. We share the same age - I was born in Croatia in 1937 - as well as the same belief: that each person has a responsibility to leave the world a better place than they found it, no matter how big or small our contribution may be. 
Your Holiness, you and I have unfortunately seen the opposite for much of our lives: we have seen leaders who have had the power to do immense good instead lie and steal from those who had little; we have seen too many wars fought, and lost too many husbands, sons, mothers, and daughters along with them; we have seen flags, boundaries, and perhaps most sadly, religions, divide us and convince us we are all different, somehow. This is why your words at St Peter's Square touched me deeply. They are so true, and so deeply needed today. 
Several years ago I started the Love & Peace Campaign. I wanted to use my art to bring people together. So I sculpted two three-and-a-half metre flowers and sent them around the world. I hoped to remind people of the beauty of the world we share, to show them that we all have the ability to appreciate the simple wonder of a flower. I wanted each viewer to remember that regardless of our colour, country, or creed, we all speak the same language of love, peace, and beauty. My flowers have travelled to London, Prague, Singapore, Beijing, Venice, and New York. 
The response to my flowers has been uplifting and inspiring. People post photos on our website, where they stand in front of the sculpture and are smiling, happy, and together. It is a wonderful feeling to know that these flowers helped people find a reason to pause, smile, and be present in that moment. These flowers don't change the world, of course, but they can change a day. They have not brought world peace, but they have brought a lot of smiles. It is some of the work I am most proud of... 
Your Holiness, by raising your voice, you have inspired me to lift my own... I pray we are one day able to work together to share the love and help inspire the peace our world so desperately needs - and deserves. 
With sincerest admiration, Ana Tzarev

Friday, 14 March 2014

Bringing Meaning to My Work

As an artist, I often am asked "why?" "Why paint; why sculpt?" "Why share your work with others?" "Why spend those hours alone, in front of a canvas?" "Why create anything at all?"
"Why?" It is a question that others always ask of us, and that, as artists, we continually ask of ourselves. Words are a good place to begin, but so much gets lost the moment we begin to write or speak. This is why I paint. Many of the answers come out there, on canvas, or in the curve of a sculpture. But just as often, they come from unexpected places and moments.
Recently, I received a personal email from Sherrill Kazan, who has been President of World Council for Peoples for the United Nations for nearly 20 years. One of my flower sculptures has been on display in New York, in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza - the "gateway to the United Nations" - since mid-October of 2013. In her letter, Sherrill wrote about the families and schoolchildren she had seen taking photos, smiling and posing with my sculpture. How they had continued to do so even as the harsh winter arrived, bundling up and standing in the snow. My sculpture, she kindly wrote, "represented the international language of Love & Peace."
Ana Tzarev's Love (2013, fiberglass) in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, New York City
Art is so profoundly universal - one does not have to know Italian to be overwhelmed by Botticelli's "Primavera" - while remaining powerfully individual. This is why people of all ages, of all nationalities and faiths, can stand next to a sculpture and smile. Last week, one of my paintings, Love Songs, won the Arts and Culture Award from the Monaco-Japon Association. It was an honour to be recognized in such a way, especially from such an organisation - one that promotes understanding between East and West, one that brings people together to promote understanding. I try to do the same with my art: bring people together, to help them see what unites us, and to remind them of the beauty in the world we all share.
Ana Tzarev, Love Songs, 1999, oil on linen, 65 x 81 cm
I have as many answers to "why?" as there are spring blossoms in Japan, as many reasons as there are people who walk by Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on an autumn day.
It is in the personal stories like the ones Sherrill shared with me, the ones that tell how my art helped people come together and smile, or in the ability to work with and be recognised by an organisation working to create tolerance and understanding - it is in these moments that the "why," even if it is only for a moment, becomes so clear.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

In 'Flowers From a Distance', Professor Peng Feng Delves Into the Globalisation of Art

It is true of life that opportunities wait for us around every corner. The unexpected is what keeps our eyes open and our hearts full of vigor, what enables us to bear through difficulties and grow stronger from them. And when these opportunities find you, you must chase them swiftly and absorb all that you can from them.
One such opportunity found me this January. I never expected that I would be so blessed to share my works with the people of Beijing, premiering my most ambitious exhibition to date at the Today Art Museum. Last month's debut of Wonderland was among the highlights of my career as an artist, and it is a memory I will treasure with my life's brightest moments.
Ana Tzarev's Peace water lily and small-scale Love poppy sculptures at Wonderland, Today Art Museum, Beijing.
It has been a tremendous honour to find myself working with Peng Feng, professor at Peking University School of Art and exhibition curator; he was an essential force in bringing Wonderland into fruition. With his permission, I am pleased to present his essay on Wonderland and its place in an increasingly globalised art world.
"Flowers From A Distance"
On invitation, I attended the 55th Venice Biennale at the end of May this year. Just at the point when I was beginning to feel disappointed by the scarcity of good work, Ana Tzarev's solo show at the Museo Diocesano di Venezia reignited my long-lost enthusiasm for art. From my perspective - that of the "Other" hailing from the far east - Ana's works brought to life everything my imagination had once dreamed Venice might be.
Ana's artistic success is not entirely rooted in Europe. Though she was born in Croatia and received excellent training there, it was after she moved to New Zealand in particular and integrated Eastern culture into her work that her career took a real qualitative leap. Ana has a gallery in New York dedicated to showcasing her work, but she chose to put her studio in Phuket, Thailand, where she spends much of her time every year living and creating.
Ever since I saw Ana's work at the Venice Biennale, I have had one question on my mind: why are her depictions of the West so true to the way someone from the East might imagine it? From an orthodox perspective, the "accuracy" of Ana's work pales in comparison to that of artists who have lived their whole lives in the centers of Europe. But in the eyes of an Easterner, Ana's work seems much more "European." How could this be? Could it be that distance plays a role? Psychologist Edward Bullough once used the concept of "psychical distance" to interpret aesthetic experience, believing that only from a psychical distance neither too close nor too far away could a viewer appreciate the beauty of a given object. Sinologist François Jullien, too, has acknowledged that in order to discern the defining characteristics of European culture, one needs a certain distance from it - and he believes far-away China provides precisely that. Perhaps one of the reasons Ana's works possess such a "European" quality is the "distance" she has maintained from Europe. Maybe this is what lends her works a clearer understanding of their subject matter.
What interests me, however, are the responses Ana's works will garner in Beijing. Will viewers here notice the Eastern elements in her art? Anyone familiar with Chinese art history knows that Chinese painters like to paint flowers. Bird-and-flower painting, orhuaniao hua, is a Chinese painting genre whose art historical importance parallels that of portrait or landscape. The Xuanhe Huapu, a treatise on painting written nearly 900 years ago during the Xuanhe reign of Song Emperor Huizong, not only lists the most renowned bird-and-flower painters in Chinese history at that time but also provides theoretical explanations of painters' affinity for the tradition. First, it cites epistemological reasons: bird-and-flower paintings helped people understand the plants and animals. By observing changes in plants and animals people could better grasp the changes of the seasons, a vital necessity for an agricultural society. Second, the treatise cites ethical reasons: people imbued birds and flowers with moral qualities, or used birds and flowers to symbolize certain moral values, for the purposes of self-cultivation and social enlightenment. Third, the metaphysical reasons: people in ancient China believed that everything in the universe was the product of the meeting and parting of Qi. In their observations of the plants, trees, flowers, animals, fish and birds, they were able to share in Nature's primordial Qi and feel they were themselves a part of the greater I of the universe. It is for these reasons that Chinese painters were so absorbed by their devotion to paint flowers and birds, seemingly inconspicuous subjects when juxtaposed with, say, magnificent architecture. So what relationship do Ana's flower paintings have to these considerations of classical Chinese painterly aesthetics?
Ana's exhibition at the Today Art Museum provides us with an opportunity to explore these questions. Alongside her iconic, large-scale "Love & Peace" flower sculptures and paintings, we find her most recent creation, a series of paintings titled "Wonderland." In this series there are not only flowers, but trees and cranes. The crane is an especially significant theme in Chinese painting. Compared with her earlier works, which feature single large flower blossoms, Ana's recent compositions combine flowers, trees and birds in a manner more closely approaching traditional Chinese bird-and-flower paintings. The paintings evoke associations to early Chinese mural paintings, or to drawings like those found in Shanhai Jing, the Classic of Mountains and Seas. It is my belief that upon viewing the exhibition, audiences will have a similar experience to my own - observing, as I have, that these works possess something distinctly Chinese. Ana does not have the conceit of those Sinologists who boast of having a more accurate understanding of Chinese culture than even the most native of native Chinese scholars. And yet, her at-a-distance vantage point does reveal to us some of the characteristics that make Chinese art unique. I believe that with the help of Ana's works, the audience will find its way back to China's long standing bird-and-flower painting tradition, and in turn link her paintings to it.
Selections from Wonderland series of paintings.
Ana found the West when she left the West. And when she returned to the West, she found the East. Her process of discovery underscores the role of distance in recognition. Distance is helpful not only with regard to self-awareness, but also with regard to recognizing ourselves in the Other. What I want to emphasize here is that Ana's ability ultimately to maintain simultaneous distance in her contemplations of both East and West results in the disappearance of distance at all between the two. Indeed, Ana's works transcend difference not just between East and West, but between all cultures. In this sense, her art is a new kind of art for the globalized era, and appreciation of this new art form is not subject to cultural restrictions. That is why her exhibitions have so deeply touched audiences on all continents.
There is no better choice than flowers as subject matter for work that aims to transcend cross-cultural boundaries. Flowers are a product of nature. Their beauty has a kind of universal power that surpasses individual cultures. Ana uses flowers and passion, love and peace to break down cultural barriers and to herald the advent of a new culture adapted to the globalized age.
Wei Xiu Garden, Peking University, December 16, 2013
Peng Feng, Ph.D., is a professor at Peking University School of Art and director of the school's Department of Art Theory. He is an executive member of the International Association of Aesthetics; an active contemporary aesthetician, critic, curator, and playwright; and served as the curator of the China Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale.