Traditions & Transformations

Exhibition Details

Date: 6 September to 10 November 2023

Venue: Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture Gallery, Ground Floor, Building EA, Parramatta South Campus, Western Sydney University. 171 Victoria Road, Parramatta.

Gallery Opening Hours: Monday – Friday (9.30 am – 5.00 pm)

Contact: Yanni Liu email:

Exhibition e-Catalogue


“… the difference between the present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past's awareness of itself cannot show.”

“Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919), T.S. Eliot

Eliot defines the relationship between the past and the present as “a simultaneous existence” in which “the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past”, and the creation of a new work modifies the perception and understanding of the tradition. It is this dynamic and reciprocal nature of the past and the present that underpins this new exhibition, Traditions and Transformations.

Every artist has a different relationship with traditions and takes a different approach to them. Artists of migrant backgrounds are bound to take a conscious path towards their cultural heritage, which in turn has a fundamental impact on their artistic creation. This exhibition features two artists of different generations and different childhood experiences, but where their unique and surprising reconfiguration and transformation of traditions in their artworks both contrast and connect them in their creative depiction of tradition and contemporaneity. This is what makes this exhibition so interesting and inspiring.

Dr Dongwang Fan was a well-established artist in Shanghai when he migrated to Australia in 1990, with the intention of discarding his Chinese art traditions and Chinese identity to become an artist of the West, only to discover that renewing and reinventing his Chinese art traditions in his creative practice in Australia led to a new world of artistic adventures and achievements. Susan Chen is a second-generation migrant of Chinese heritage. Growing up in a white dominant society, she rejected her cultural heritage, only wanting to assimilate and conform to the “norm”. Later she realised that her cultural heritage inspired her and became an integral part of her own unique works of art.

The design of the cover image is to highlight the surprising and contrasting transformations the two artists have undertaken in their creation. Fan, who grew up in China, created his 2014 Wynne Prize finalist painting of the Australian landscape, Gum Tree triptych, through the techniques of Chinese painting, carving and calligraphy, providing viewers with a fresh and new perspective of this emblematic Australian tree. Chen, who grew up in Australia, cleverly and satirically turned the traditional Chinese game of mahjong into a new “game set”, compelling viewers to reflect upon the human responses to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic in Australia. Fan’s subsequent and new bodies of works show his continuous transformations of artistic creation across a diverse range of subjects, all distinguished by his sculptural painting style. Chen’s new works include ceramic vases created through merging traditional ceramic techniques with new technology. A closer inspection of the seemingly traditional ceramic vases will reveal Chinese characters digitally embedded into the surface of the vases to capture the essence of positive cultural exchange.

We hope this exhibition will give viewers a refreshing experience of traditions and transformations in art creation and that the artworks will provoke a historical and contemporaneous sense that involves not only the “pastness of the past” but also the “new presence of the past” in the present.

Professor Jing Han

Director, Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture

About the Artists

Chinese Australian artist Dr Fan Dongwang studied traditional Chinese art at the Shanghai School of Arts and Crafts (SSAC) in the 70's and later became an art teacher at SSAC. As an established Shanghai artist, his work has been exhibited regularly at the Shanghai Art Gallery since 1982, including the 1986 Shanghai Art Museum Inaugural Art Exhibition and the 1987 Shanghai International Art Festival. As a member of the top professional art body, Chinese Artists Association, he was awarded the Prize for Excellent Work for Shanghai International Culture Exchange. In 1990 Fan migrated to Australia as an artist of ‘Distinguished Talent’. He studied Master of Arts at COFA, NSW University in 1995, and received the Post Graduate Award and completed Doctor of Creative Art at Wollongong University in 2000. His doctoral thesis Shifting Perspectives and the Body established a theoretical model for comparing the differences between the representation of spatial depth in Chinese and European paintings.

Fan has been a guest lecturer at ANU and Wollongong University, and a visiting fellow at Curtin University. His paintings have been shown in group exhibitions at the National Gallery of Australia and numerous university and regional art galleries throughout Australia. His solo exhibitions have been held at Wollongong City Gallery, Drill Hall Gallery, Sydney University College of the Arts Galleries, Macquarie University Art Gallery and University of Newcastle Art Gallery. He has been awarded the Mosman Art Prize; Festival of Fisher’s Ghost Art Award; Liverpool City Art Prize; Willoughby City Art Prize; Burwood Art Prize; Ian Potter Cultural Trust Grant; Art on The Rocks Prize; and many grants from the Australia Council and Create NSW. He has been a finalist at both the Wynne Prize and Sulman Prize at the AGNSW and a finalist at the Moran prize. Fan’s work has been featured on China CCTV and commissioned by the National Gallery of Australia and Sydney City Council. He currently lives and works in Sydney.

Susan Chen is a Sydney-based ceramic artist, working out of her studio in Sydney’s Inner West.

Chen’s work explores the intersection of art, design and craft, currently focusing on the use of digital technology in the ceramic art making process. Chen is interested in the changing narrative and perception of traditional ceramic making techniques, and how they can be applied in a contemporary context.

Chen often finds her inspiration in the mundane of the everyday. She is an acute social observer and creates sculptural interpretations and unique narratives from social debris that is left behind, both in the physical and digital realm. Her works comment on social phenomena, including the influence and impact of social media and digital culture.

The artist’s recent body of works demonstrate an introspective investigation into her own cultural heritage as an Australian born Chinese artist — exploring the liminal space between the two cultures she has grown up in.

Her work highlights the significance of the object in the ephemeral nature of the digital world.

Simon Chan is the Director of Art Atrium, an art gallery exhibiting contemporary Australian, Asian and Aboriginal art with a special focuson cross cultural collaboration in art as a reflection of our multicultural society in a globalised world. He is also a Director of SCA Architects, Director & former Chair on the Board of the Aboriginal Benefits Foundation, Director on the Foundation Board of AustralianNational Maritime Museum, Council Member of Power Institute for Art & Visual Culture Foundation Council of University of Sydney, Director on the Board of Parramasala, Board Member of Multicultural NSW Advisory Board, Board member of the NSW Government Geographical Names Board, Committee Member of the NSW Government Chinese Garden of Friendship Advisory Committee, Director on the Board of Contemporary Australian Asian Performance, President of Chinese Australian Forum, Immediate Past President of Haymarket Chamber of Commerce, former Director on the Board of VisAsia at Art Gallery of NSW and the inaugural recipient of the 2013NSW Premier’s Multicultural Award for Arts & Culture.

Artist Statement- Fan Dongwang: click here

Artist Statment-Susan Chen: click here

Artworks from Dongwang Fan                                                                       Artworks from Susan Chen

Interviews of  the Artists