Image of identity

Updated: 2015-07-14 07:19

By Lin Qi(China Daily)

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An LA artist's show in Beijing explores her multiethnic heritage. Lin Qi reports.

Los Angeles-based multimedia artist Toni Scott presents an anthropological case study of her family history at a solo exhibition in Beijing, entitled DNA - Bloodlines and the Family of Mankind.

She displays three installation pieces and a dozen digital prints inspired by her multiethnic background at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology inside Peking University.

 Image of identity

Slave Boat, woven with 500 real photos of African-American slaves, is on display at US multimedia artist Toni Scott's solo show in Beijing. Xu Bocheng / For China Daily

Scott traces her lineage to European immigrants, African slaves and Native Americans. She belongs to a tribal entity called the Muscogee Creek Nation that numbers about 70,000 in the United States.

She set up two installations that resemble tepees to celebrate the cultural richness of the some 500 federally recognized Native American tribes.

Scott drew totems, including warriors and animals worshiped by her tribe, such as jaguars and snakes, on the tepees' exteriors.

"The Muscogee people believed these totems were spiritual guardians, who empowered the citizens and drew away bad things," she says.

Scott also painted suns to represent the cosmos and moons in stages from waxing to waning to symbolize humankind's migrations. She replaced the tepees' wooden poles with bamboo poles as a tribute to the connection between the Asians and their descendants, the Native Americans.

To honor her European and African decent, Scott calls attention to the brutal history of slavery and victims' infinite sadness - a legacy that persists in its impact.

She wove 500 real photos of African-American slaves to form an 8-meter-long boat that's hung from the ceiling in the main exhibition hall. She collected the photos from the US Library of Congress. Some were taken by slave owners to showcase their "fortunes". Others were taken by scientists for research purposes, Scott says.

She colored the images blue to denote the horrors slaves endured during long ocean journeys and the sufferings they experienced after arriving at their destinations.

Scott's exhibition is the third staged under the Dame Jillian Sackler International Artists Exhibition Program. It was established in 2013 by Jillian Sackler, widow of Arthur M. Sackler (1913-87), the US physician, medicine publisher and collector. Sackler masterminded and sponsored the museum's construction.

Every year, the program brings an artist's solo exhibition related to history, society and culture.

Image of identity

"The program is of educational importance," Jillian Sackler, who presides over the AMS Foundation for the Arts, Sciences and Humanities, tells China Daily.

"It tries to bring very important issues to the contemporary art world. And hopefully the Chinese students can have something meaningful to see, to learn, to disagree or to have some stimulation. I'm not sure how much the viewers, many being students and small children, really know about slavery ... But seeing something visually can have more of an impact than just reading in a book, which one can't quite relate to."

During a trip in China in the early 1980s, Arthur Sackler first expressed an intention to build a museum at a Chinese university like the one he endowed at Harvard.

"He was incredibly interested in art, museums and education. He had made a lot of different collections, ranging from European paintings, American paintings to Native American art. But his largest collection was the Chinese art, which formed the foundation of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington DC," Jillian Sackler says.

She pushed forward the museum's completion following her husband's death, shortly after the groundwork was laid at Peking University.

"I felt the museum was, as Arthur said, a bridge between peoples. It was an educational contribution. I wanted to complete it because I knew my husband wanted to."

The museum is designed in a Chinese garden-style befitting Peking University's campus. It has been a retreat for scholars of archaeology and museology, since its official opening in 1993. It hopes to attract more ordinary visitors with dynamic exhibitions.

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 Image of identity

Toni Scott's installation Tepee, featuring totems of Native American tribes, is to celebrate the cultural richness of the tribes. Xu Bocheng / For China Daily

(China Daily 07/14/2015 page20)