The inspiration for this exhibition is one of the Powerhouse Museum’s most mysterious objects: a small figure of the Chinese God of Longevity unearthed in Darwin in 1879. The Museum acquired a plaster cast of the object in 1889 and the original in 1950. From the time of its discovery, the figure has been the subject of much speculative and scholarly enquiry. Many writers and historians have suggested that the God of Longevity may be evidence of the arrival of a Chinese vessel from the voyages of Zheng He (1371-1432) in the early 15th century, more than 350 years before James Cook landed at Kurnell.
Guan Wei approached the Powerhouse Museum to develop an exhibition that would bring to the public an imaginary history, based on the story of Zheng He’s voyages.
The result was an art installation in which Guan Wei reassigns meaning to objects in the Museum’s collection and combines them with his mural paintings, narrative, and artistic recreations from his fictitious Museum of Australia–East Asian Art. Guan Wei used real, imagined and facsimile objects to substantiate an assumed history. Visitors are invited to decode visual information, making their own links between the different components of the exhibition. It is Guan Wei’s hope that visitors ‘will feel a sense of satisfaction that a history can be created where there may be no history, or that a short history can be manipulated to become a longer and richer history’.
Guan Wei was born in Beijing in 1957 and graduated in Fine Arts from Beijing Capital University in 1986. He migrated to Australia in 1990 and currently lives and works in Sydney. Since his first visit, as artist-in-residence at the Tasmanian School of Art in 1989, Guan Wei has been fascinated by narratives that connect China and Australia. Guan Wei’s art is imbued with wit, humour and a social conscience. It is inspired by themes such as exploration, immigration, the plight of refugees, secret histories and cross-cultural understanding. In creating his fable for a contemporary world, Guan Wei – the artist as storyteller – has extracted what is of use to him from the Museum’s collection and created an exhibition that, in his own words, functions as a ‘floating, poetic corridor in which history and memory, fact and fiction are blurred’.
Members of the public were able to view the artist at work in the Museum’s Asian Gallery from 18 September to 6 October 2006.