Aniwar Mamat brings to Hong Kong a contemporary twist to the traditional Uyghur felting techniques in his experimental ‘tapestry paintings’ series.

“Sunlight Reflects”, the first solo exhibition in Hong Kong at Pékin Fine Arts by Beijing-based painter Aniwar Mamat, is a tribute to the labor intensive process of handcraft. The exhibition showcases his works in collaboration with local skilled craftsmen in a remote Uyghur village.

Aniwar Mamat, “Sunlight Reflects”, 24 September - 17 November 2016, Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Aniwar Mamat, “Sunlight Reflects”, 24 September – 17 November 2016, Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

“Sunlight Reflects”, on view at Pékin Fine Arts in Hong Kong until 12 November 2016, features Xinjiang artist Aniwar Mamat’s abstract tapestry works. Mamat works with a variety of media, including painting, drawing, installation, photography and film. Recently, he has been focusing on tapestry making as a means to raise awareness about the notion of traditional craftsmanship, as well as its place in consumerist society in which the market is flooded with machine-made, mass-produced goods.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘White Drift’, 2015, tapestry painting - lamb’s wool felt, 210 x 210 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘White Drift’, 2015, tapestry painting – lamb’s wool felt, 210 x 210 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Born in 1962 in Kashgar, a town located in the far west region of China, Aniwar Mamat is no stranger to the culture of Central Asia. For centuries, Kashgar has been affiliated with the historic Silk Road trade route, on which myriad of cultural influences have converged throughout history. Not surprisingly, Mamat worked in a carpet factory after studying in the Tianjin Institute of Art and Design in the 1980s. Later, he graduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Central Institute of National Minorities in Beijing, and began his teaching career as a professor at Beijing’s Central School of Arts and Design. He continues to live and work in China’s capital city.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘Color Movement from Rome to Kashgar’, 2015, tapestry painting - lamb’s wool felt, 190 x 360 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘Color Movement from Rome to Kashgar’, 2015, tapestry painting – lamb’s wool felt, 190 x 360 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Mamat has exhibited widely in institutions and art spaces such as OCAT Xi’an Museum, Platform China and CourtYard Gallery. His works were also found at the 56th Venice Biennale, the 2nd Xianjiang Biennale and in the international group exhibition “Decorum: Carpets and Tapestries By Artists” jointly organised by the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Shanghai Power Station of Art.

In an interview during his residency at Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Aniwar states:

Art is language. My art is to use language to create a space…a kind of influence which you can feel physically […] through lots of materials like wool […] ancient materials with a soft touch and contemporary materials like photos, light and videos. All these materials come to create the influence.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘Traces of Breath from Rome (1)’, 2015, tapestry painting - lamb’s wool felt, 205 x 360 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘Traces of Breath from Rome (1)’, 2015, tapestry painting – lamb’s wool felt, 205 x 360 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Language and Space

Indeed, the language that Mamat employs differs radically from the prevailing rhetoric of Chinese socialist realism in the national narrative in the 1960s and 1970s. As the avant-garde 85 New Wave movement gained traction across China in the mid-1980s, Mamat’s minimalist abstraction became ingrained in his work.

Contrary to popular belief, Mamat’s art is not only about purely non-representational concepts. As stated in the introduction by OCAT Xian Museum,

Aniwar Mamat’s work is unique within China’s contemporary art, first for his distinctive artistic language, which approaches abstraction, although the artist is always careful to say that it begins from nature, emotion, light rather than purely non-representational concepts. Over time, he reduced readable forms, such as figures, flowers and elements of nature, to pure colour and a form of geometric line that is intended to create a spatial sensation across the surface of a painting or textile work.

 Aniwar Mamat, ‘Green’ (installation detail), 2015, tapestry painting - lamb’s wool felt, 180 x 400 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘Green’ (installation detail), 2015, tapestry painting – lamb’s wool felt, 180 x 400 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Grids and Modernity

Mamat’s ‘tapestry painting’ series evolve from the painterly style in his earlier works to the grid format. In the ‘tapestry’ paintings displayed in the current exhibition “Sunlight Reflects” at Pékin Fine Arts in Hong Kong, the grids are left visible. The grids divide the vertical and horizontal space, but as colour bands hover between and above the grid, the illusion of a three-dimensional space is created. Aniwar’s minimalist aesthetic rejects popular motifs and folkloric imagery. Since his decision to use lamb’s wool felt in 2010 as his primary medium of investigation, he has experimented with artistic vocabularies and visual forms that allow him to explore the notion of space.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘Green’(detail), 2015, tapestry painting - lamb’s wool felt, 180 x 400 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘Green’(detail), 2015, tapestry painting – lamb’s wool felt, 180 x 400 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Art of colours, Art of nature

Despite the geometric approach in composition, Aniwar’s colour palette is highly distinctive. The bright hues are characteristic of Xinjiang textiles and carpets, and can be traced back to the early days of Uyghur carpet imports to China along the Silk Road. Shades of Imperial red and yellows preferred by the Han Chinese of Eastern China are mostly absent in Aniwar’s’ tapestry paintings’. Here, shades of pink, burgundy, green and blue are dominant.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘The Breath of Warm Colors’, 2015, tapestry painting - lamb’s wool felt, 210 x 190 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘The Breath of Warm Colors’, 2015, tapestry painting – lamb’s wool felt, 210 x 190 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Nature plays an important role in Aniwar’s art. First of all, Mamat’s medium, lamb’s wool, is a natural material. Additionally, Mamat selects natural dye pigments to create his tapestry pieces. Basic natural elements such as the sun, light, wind, water and rain are mentioned in previous exhibition titles and depicted in the works.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘Abundant Color’, 2015, tapestry painting - lamb’s wool felt, 125 x 206 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘Abundant Color’, 2015, tapestry painting – lamb’s wool felt, 125 x 206 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Medium and Heritage

The medium of lamb’s wool felt of the ‘tapestry paintings’ speaks volumes about the context and history behind the works. It conveys the lifestyles of craftsmen and artisans in Xinjiang, as well as Mamat’s heritage. The remote nature of the village that these works are produced in, coupled with the limited economic development of these regions, highlights the contrast between the periphery and the centre, the urban city life versus that of the countryside.

As China’s economy has skyrocketed in the recent years, rapid changes to cityscapes have occured frequently. Goods are manufactured in an industrial scale and consumed at unimaginable speeds. However, the artisan art-making techniques are threatened as they require time, skill and hard work to produce a small quantity of one-of-a-kind handmade items. Despite the time-consuming nature of handicraft, preservation and the passing-down of such knowledge is vital, otherwise a large segment of cultural heritage that is crucial to finding humanity’s roots will be lost forever.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘The Persistence of Blue’, 2015, tapestry painting - lamb’s wool felt, 190 x 130 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Aniwar Mamat, ‘The Persistence of Blue’, 2015, tapestry painting – lamb’s wool felt, 190 x 130 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

 Aniwar Mamat, “Sunlight Reflects”, 24 September - 17 November 2016, Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Aniwar Mamat, “Sunlight Reflects”, 24 September – 17 November 2016, Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong. Image courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

Labour of Production: A Painstaking Process

A documentary film, currently on view at the exhibition at Pékin Fine Arts, reveals the artist’s work in progress as he instructs the local craftsmen on how to assemble his artwork. The felt from lamb’s wool is soaked, pressed and rolled meticulously. The felt is then dyed to form colour bands, which are later arranged in patterns according to the artist’s will. Some parts in the background of the ‘tapestry painting’ are left undyed, allowing the true colours of the lamb’s wool to be seen. In many ways, the film lays bare the role of labour in the production process of the work.

Valencia Tong

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Related Topics: Chinese artists, Central Asian, gallery shows, abstract arttextile art, events in Hong Kong

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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