One Chinese and one Maltese artist is chosen every year by the China Cultural Centre in Malta to celebrate Women’s Day on March 8. However, due to unforeseen circumstances brought about by COVID-19, The Sixth China-Malta Female Artists Dialogue Exhibition was postponed and has now been made available as an online exhibition on the China Cultural Centre in Malta’s Facebook, Instagram, Wechat page and also on a dedicated webpage.

Chinese Avalokitesvara Heart Mantra (coloured ink on rice paper) by Li MuyaoChinese Avalokitesvara Heart Mantra (coloured ink on rice paper) by Li Muyao

The exhibition, curated by E.V. Borg, brings into clear contrast the art of the Chinese artist Li Muyao and Maltese ceramist Nadya Anne Mangion. It presents a confrontation of ideas, reflection and action in a peaceful dialogue.

Mangion is a romantic expressionist and her preferred medium is raku-fired clay, which she transforms into unique shapes and bold colours. Her expressionist vision and concept is quite explicit in her articulate texture, rough surfaces of seemingly used and broken vases or containers that might suggest wear, either through use, or that these are not functional objects but mere symbols or anthropomorphic forms. They emanate a primitive timelessness.

Raku-firing is a technique that originated in the East and controls the chemical oxidation and reduction of the glazes used. The ceramic pieces show the movement of clay, where markings into the surface that are made when it is still wet reveal the hand of the potter who created them. The Raku technique allows Mangion to create pieces which reflect the mood of the moment – organic in form and even abstract at times. They do not belong to an ideal classical form, since she adopts distortion and moves away from symmetry.

Return Date (ink painting on rice paper) by Li MuyaoReturn Date (ink painting on rice paper) by Li Muyao

Mangion finds inspiration to create her unique and bold ceramic art in nature. This can be seen in the ceramic works titled Windows of Opportunity where the yellow vase represents the warm yet powerful sunrise in Malta and the red vase represents the sunset and national colour of China. The perforations present in the vases are like windows that symbolise the great opportunities that can flow through them.

Although Li and  Mangion express their sentiment and feeling through different mediums of art, their inspiration and driving force to imagine and create is the same – nature. Li shows deep sensitivity and delicacy in her oil paintings of flowers and her more traditional Chinese landscapes in ink. Her work ispoetic, expressive and romantic.

Li is popularly known as Li Li and is a skilled artist, pianist, chess-player, calligrapher and poet. She hails from Yunnan Province in southwestern China, which borders the Chinese autonomous region of Tibet. Yunnan’s vast landscape of mountains, gorges and lakes has left a deep impression on Li’s ink paintings. Her ink on rice paper painting, Return Date, captures the majestic and mysterious beauty of China and her choice of technique highlights her influence from Chinese traditional art.

Bottle Flower 2 (oil painting on canvas) by Li MuyaoBottle Flower 2 (oil painting on canvas) by Li Muyao

Her contrasting oil paintings of flowers, such as Bottle Flower 2, express delicate fragility and innocence. However, in her series of oil paintings where the lotus flower is present along with Chinese, Sanskrit or Tibetan writing, the imaginative scenes are bursting with vivid colour and life.

In Buddhism, the lotus flower acts as the tripartite symbol of purity. This stems from its natural state of floating above murky water, a representation of attachment to the material world. In Chinese Avalokitesvara Heart Mantra, the lotus flower is emphasised along with the Chinese writing taken from the six-syllabled Sanskrit mantra which, when chanted, is the first step to purity and a step towards eventually becoming a Buddha.

Just as Li’s scripture in her painting is a small stepping-stone to enlightenment, Mangion’s installation of curved ceramic pieces glazed in black and white, Pathways-East-West, are stepping stones joining west to east and east to west. The  two artists’ work and passion bring Malta and China closer to each other in understanding and appreciation.

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