Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd makes comments on renowned Chinese artist Guan Wei's work "Tracing Downing Ned Kelly, No. 2" at the opening ceremony of the "Southern Skies" exhibition on April 9, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

When talking about relationships between two countries, people often refer to political and economical ties. But cultural relationships also draw on communication and understanding, and a contemporary art exhibition in
Beijing is currently illustrating the friendship between China and Australia.

The eight Chinese artists involved in the show have been living and working in Australia for nearly two decades. They had a solid understanding of Chinese culture before leaving and have also been influenced by Australian culture. Their works reflect the combination and integration of the two cultures and the artists' new thoughts about the world.

Organizer Madeleine O'Dea calls the "Southern Skies" artists "cultural ambassadors."

"This exhibition is a celebration of nearly twenty years of relations between Chinese contemporary artists and Australia."

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, this group of Chinese artists decided that in order to develop as artists, they needed to go overseas. They went to Australia, where they all struggled somewhat, but eventually became successful artists producing beautiful work.

Their work has also drawn the attention of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He opened the exhibition in the Australian embassy and reviewed a painting by renowned artist Guan Wei.

"See, for example, a piece such as that by Guan Wei over to our right, which is a traditional Chinese R (landscape) painting. If you look carefully, and I suggest that to the Australians who are present, who are visiting, you will see Ned Kelly being persecuted at the bottom of the waterfall. So this is kind of Ned Kelly via Sidney Nolan through Guan Wei into a Chinese landscape of the Ming Dynasty -- you figure it out. But I tell you what -- it's kind of a lot of fun."

The piece Rudd mentioned is Guan Wei's acrylic on rice paper scroll called "Tracing Downing Ned Kelly, No. 2." Completed in 2004, the scroll portrays a modern antiterrorism story in a Ming Dynasty setting.

Ned Kelly is an Australian robber and hero, but in Guan Wei's work he is a target for modern soldiers. To criticize the cruelty of war, Guan Wei used bloody red lines and dots to express his meaning. The cultural conflict and the painter's call for peace are evident in the work.

Guan Wei is concerned with world peace and global warming, while Hu Ming, a female artist and a former soldier in the Chinese army, focuses more on women's rights. Her oil on canvas "Relic of the New 87 Immortals -- Following the Sun" can best illustrate the changes in women's lives. Hu Ming was inspired by the famous Chinese artwork "Relic of the 87 Immortals." Her work is unique because she replaced the male immortals with females from different eras and social classes.

Noblewomen from ancient China and elegant, qipao-clad women in old Shanghai are depicted alongside businesswomen and modern girls jumping around in bikinis. Hu Ming said the work was ten years in the making. She wanted to show the world the liberal history of Chinese women and fashion trends in China.

"This is a modern and beautiful lady in the mid-1980s. She is holding a big lollipop in her hand to symbolize that life at the time was very sweet."

The last image in Hu Ming's work is that of an aloof lady with bird's nest on her head and a sharp sword in her hand. Hu Ming uses this image to indicate a new start for Chinese women's life in modern society.

Other famous Chinese artists Lin Chunyan, Tan Yifeng, Guo Jian, and Ah Xian have also brought their latest works to the exhibition. They all went to Australia during a time of great change in China. In Australia, they experienced the opportunities, challenges, frustrations and rewards of immigrant life. Their work, personal, and life experiences provide a vibrant link between the old world of China and the new world of Australia.

"Southern Skies -- Chinese Artists in Australia" will be on display in the Australian embassy through April 16, 2008. Art enthusiasts can find more information on the show on the Internet or in the "Southern Skies" catalogue.

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