Art of a connected culture

Chinese art professors exhibit work, share common identity
Tuesday, July 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:40 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Lampo Leong started his art career by producing propaganda posters and murals for the Chinese government.

“I was working as a professional before I even had a chance to formally study art,” said Leong, assistant art professor at MU and exhibiting artist, “but as a result I got a real good foundation in the basic ideas of art in drawing and painting.”

Leong grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976. During that time students were unable to receive formal art instruction in schools.

The Columbia Art League will open the Chinese Artists in Academia exhibit tonight. This exhibit features 16 of the 24 Chinese art professors in the United States, including Leong. Columbia will be the first of three stops for the traveling exhibit.

There is no theme for the group exhibit — the artists themselves are the common link.

While in China, the artists had limited exposure to modern art. The greatest influences were the Renaissance and Russian socialist realism.

“That is why we have a slightly different background than our colleagues in the U.S. because they grew up at a time that modern art was very popular and the emphasis wasn’t classical,” Leong said. “Expression-wise our art was more political, but technically it’s more classical realism.”

All the artists attended graduate school in the United States where they were exposed to other forms of art. They also learned to find their own voices. Despite his struggle to become an artist, Leong says his upbringing helped his and his colleagues’ artistic expression.

“It became a benefit — all the hardship we went through including the Cultural Revolution and including growing up in a socialist country,” Leong said. “We’ve been able to utilize classical training and incorporate our own culture. As a result, there’s a synthesis of cultures in our art-making.”

Leong was the catalyst in having the exhibit come to Columbia and as curator he has been planning the exhibit for three or four months.

The exhibit features culturally diverse artists, which is a departure for the league.

“We have a variety of different exhibits but we’ve never really been able to bring the cultural diversity that is present in Columbia into our exhibits,” Art League Executive Director Jill Stedem said.

The small group of Chinese professors regularly communicates through e-mail and phone calls. It coordinated the first exhibit of this kind at Long Beach, Calif., in 2003. After the success of that first show, the group of professors wanted to make the show a traveling exhibit.

This exhibit will travel to two shows in the St. Louis area after its stint in Columbia. The next show is planned for Savannah, Ga., for 2005.

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