A famous face gets a new friend: the Buddha viewing the world through butterfly-tinted glasses in Beijing-based artist Li Shuang's new exhibition at Dialogue Space.
Beijing's late spring is finally in full bloom with The Butterfly Dream, a tranquil exhibition by Chinese artist Li Shuang recently opened at Dialogue Space in the International Art Plaza.
Borrowing the name of a classic work from ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, the exhibition comes across as an intimate, personal meditation by the artist. Li cites the probing metaphysical questions posed in Zhuangzi's book as her inspiration to create a series of artwork centered around a Buddha and a butterfly. Zhuangzi's famous central quandary — whether a man who dreams he is a butterfly is in fact a butterfly dreaming he is a man — drove Li to offer her own interpretation, mixing images of Buddhas and butterflies in what quickly would become the most prominent subjects on her canvas.
"For the past year, I've wanted to experience what Zhuangzi wrote: 'I dream of turning into a butterfly, and I'm quite happy as a butterfly,'" Li said, "so I started my painting my first image of a peaceful, happy-go-lucky butterfly. Then, while I was still working on the first piece, the idea for the second just came into being naturally."
Li invokes a calm and somewhat mysterious ambience via the Buddha's largely unreadable facial expression, while the butterfly, paused in mid-flight, gives the Buddha a diaphanous, delicately hazy mask.
Though different pieces see the Buddha's face tilted at subtly different angles, his unchanging, dreamlike gaze gives the entire series a common emotion and suggests a Mona Lisa-esque question: is the Buddha smiling or not? With each successive glance, viewers may not reach a same conclusion.
The Buddha, in all his welcoming postures and gentle grins, is a resoundingly familiar image to Chinese viewers — and, as presented in Li's exhibit, a clear tribute to traditional Chinese artwork. At the same time, however, The Butterfly Dream offers a fresh interpretation of this classic visage via Li's use of oil paint, an element of Western painting not typically found in Chinese art, which uses ink at its main medium.
"This exhibit harmoniously blends a timeless Buddhist image with the structural features of Christian painting," exhibition curator Li Ying said in a statement. "But it is not a tribute to religion or divinity. It is a rediscovery of the ecumenical values of purity, tranquility, peace and tolerance."
Where: Dialogue Space, #6-97, 22 International Art Plaza, No. 32 Baiziwan Road
When: Until May 11