IAC Art Talks Inaugural Lecture: Identity, Position, Presence by Dr Guan Wei (Catch up Online)

The event was held on Tuesday 18 April 2023.


I came to Australia in the early 1990s when Australia was actively engaging with countries in Asia. Australia wanted to play an influential role in politics, economy, arts, culture and sports in Asia. This was particularly seen in art. In September 1993 the Queensland Art Gallery launched the first Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT1) and I was fortunate enough to be included in the show. Caught up in this wave, I started my search for identity, position and presence.

In the early 1990s, the Australian government also felt that Australia should stop being so preoccupied with the West and reposition the country in Asia. The government focused on developing close relationships with its geographical neighbours. The then Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating, called for Australia to become a republic and his government increased Australia’s cultural and economic ties with Asia. He believed in Australia’s integration into Asia and was convinced that Australia should position itself in Asia, a viewpoint encouraged and supported by the thriving economies of Asia.

A review of my own artistic creation during that period shows that the themes of my works ranged from the integration of Eastern and Western Arts to environmental protection to Australian politics and history and various aspects of Australian society. I was regarded as a success story of a migrant artist. How I was labelled in Australian media changed from “Chinese artist”, to “Chinese-Australian artist”, to “Australian-Chinese artist”, and finally to “Australian artist”. This change reflects the recognition of my double identity and my integration into Australian culture.

This talk will focus on both my journey searching for identity, position and presence and also that of other artists of Asian backgrounds.

Guan Wei

About the SpeakerGuan Wei Bio Image

Guan Wei was born in Beijing in 1957 and graduated from the Department of Fine Arts at Beijing Capital University in 1986. He first came to Australia in 1989, and from 1989 to1992 he completed art residencies at the University of Tasmania and the Australian National University. During this period, he was also the first artist-in-residence from China at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney (MCA). In 1993 Guan Wei immigrated to Australia and in 2008 he set up a studio in Beijing. Prior to the pandemic he lived and worked in both Beijing and Sydney and over the years has made significant contributions to the art exchanges between Australia and China.

Guan Wei has held over 70 solo exhibitions in Australia and internationally, including Nesting, or Art of Idleness at MCA in 1999; Other Histories: Guan Wei's Fable for a Contemporary World at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney in 2006; and Guan Wei: MCA Collection in 2019 which included his major works the Two-finger Exercises series from 1989 and the mural Feng Shui commissioned for the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne. Guan Wei has been included in many important international contemporary exhibitions, such as the Shanghai Biennial, China; the 10th Havana Biennial, Cuba; the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Australia; the 3rd Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Australia; the Osaka Triennial, Japan; and the Gwangju Biennial, South Korea. His major awards include 2002 Sulman Prize at Art Gallery of NSW and 2015 Arthur Guy Memorial Prize. In recognition of his tremendous contribution to Australian and Chinese contemporary art, Guan Wei was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Creative Art from Western Sydney University in 2021.

Guan Wei is an iconic figure in the Australian contemporary art scene and critically acclaimed internationally. His art is highly praised not only for its intellectual depth, artistic originality, humanity, and integration of past, present, East and West, but also for its sharp sense of humour and, above all, its unique Guan Wei style. Through his art he reflects upon the human condition as we engage with critical contemporary issues, such as climate change, questions of identity, migration and exile. His works are equally the product of his rich cultural repertory of symbols as they are of his informed socio-political awareness and knowledge of art history.