Sunday, March 31, 2013

Small World, Big Faces

As I walked toward my Vancouver hotel, huge bronze figures loomed at the end of the street, silhouetted against sky and water. When I began to explore the neighborhood, I went to look closer at the fourteen giant figures, all laughing, all barefoot and bare-chested, all Chinese men.

As I looked at their faces, I knew I’d seen them before. On my final day of my last trip to Hong Kong, there was an outdoor exhibition of bronze statues near the Kowloon waterfront, made by a Mainland sculptor. The faces were the same as the ones I stared at now.

The Vancouver bronze men stood close together, like a little forest. It was hard to tell if their laughter was joyful or jeering, although their bodies were frozen in playful poses. I'd had the same difficulty with the figures I'd seen on another waterfront six months earlier;  I had examined them with a degree of discomfort, unsure if their faces were contorted in laughter or screams.Were these statues done by the same artist as the man whose work was displayed in Kowloon or were they skillful copies of his art?

On my last day, a desk clerk at the Sylvia gave me the artist’s name, and the figures in this Northwestern city were indeed related to the ones I saw in Kowloon. The ones in Morton Park replaced a massive tree that had stood there forever and was blown down in a storm.

Yue Minjun casts his own face in his statues, so the Vancouver bronzes were relatives of the ones in Kowloon. I wandered through the bronze forest, looking at one man’s face, feeling happy to find part of a city I love in a city that I was in love with.

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