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Out of Place: One Artist's Story of Aboriginal Life

Pub Date:18-03-26 08:45 Source:China Daily

From Art to Life by Johnny Bulunbulun and Zhou Xiaoping (2009).[Photo provided to China Daily]

After spending half a lifetime with the indigenous people of Australia, a former art teacher from Anhui is keen to share his journey with society

It's nothing new that an artist might be inspired by indigenous art from other lands considering Pablo Picasso's masterpiece Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), which was said to be influenced by African sculptures. However, it is rare for an artist to spend half a lifetime living with aborigines in the wilds of a foreign land just to learn the essence of their traditional art and use it as the seedbed for their own work.

And Zhou Xiaoping, 60, a former art teacher from Hefei, Anhui province, did just that.

He observed and experienced aboriginal life for nearly 30 years after becoming captivated by aboriginal rock paintings during his first trip to Australia in 1988.

"I came across some aborigines and their artworks in Alice Springs, a town in central Australia," recalls Zhou. "I was extremely curious about these people who looked so different from my stereotypical image of Australians and seemed to be out of place in the midst of the so-called mainstream Australian society."

Snapshots of Zhou Xiaoping's life in the aboriginal community.[Photo provided to China Daily]

After that, his curiosity led him to explore the jungle in Arnhem Land near Darwin, the capital of Australia's Northern Territory, where he tried to integrate into the aboriginal community there.

He had to change his daily routine and lifestyle from being an urban dweller, adapting to hunt and fish for food during the daytime and bedding down for the night in the open.

"When we caught our prey, we threw the animal into the fire, and ate its meat without any flavoring. It was always mixed with sand," says the Chinese-Australian painter, adding that the eating habits of his aboriginal friends didn't bother him, despite being so unfamiliar initially.

He tried to put behind him the rules and social trifles of urban living and wholeheartedly embrace the daily life of a bushman, which later transformed his understanding of the essence of aboriginal culture and increasingly influenced, both implicitly or explicitly, his art.

Snapshots of Zhou Xiaoping's life in the aboriginal community.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Zhou has traveled extensively throughout Australia and been to almost every main aboriginal community in the country.

In the early 1990s, he met an aboriginal artist named Jimmy Pike in an aboriginal stronghold in Western Australia.

"We lived under a tree for three weeks during which he told me the folklore of the region and taught me how to survive in the wild," says Zhou. "And we painted together as a pastime."

Their friendship grew through their shared interest in art and mutual respect for each other. In 1996, Zhou returned to his hometown in China with Pike, and held a joint exhibition at the Hefei-Kurume Friendship Art Gallery, which is believed to be the first exhibition of Australian aboriginal art in China.

In 2009, Zhou and another aboriginal artist Johnny Bulunbulun from Arnhem Land, painted a work called From Art to Life, which he brought to an exhibition at the Capital Museum in Beijing two years later.

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