Written by Kevin Griffin – Published by The Vancouver Sun – May 26, 2016 – See original article here
As a youngster growing up in China, Cecilia Aisin Gioro knew better than to talk about being related to the country’s last emperor. What stopped her was social pressure against acknowledging she was the grandniece of Puyi Aisin Gioro, or Henry Pu Yi, as he was called in the West.
The Aisin Gioro name remains unpopular in China because it reminds people of a time when a minority group — the Manchus from the northeast — ruled the country for almost 300 years.
The surname is also linked to a period in China’s history many Chinese would like to forget. In the last decades of the reign of the Aisin Gioro family, China became so weak and ineffective, it couldn’t stand up to foreign powers such as Great Britain and Japan, which forced concessions on the country in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Through her paintings, Cecilia Aisin Gioro delivers her story about the Qing Dynasty to Art! Vancouver, the art fair taking place May 26-29 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Aisin Gioro will be selling paintings of horses, which hold special personal and historical significance for her. In the Manchu tradition, learning to ride horses and practicing archery was usually reserved for males. But because there were no males in her side of the family, her grandmother made her dress like a boy in public so she could keep the horse riding tradition alive.
She’ll also be showing paintings of imaged scenes from her childhood growing up in Changchun and of adult women in various contemporary situations. The latter includes a painting of a woman with the face of popular Chinese actress and singer Yiyan Jiang looking out from underneath a red shawl. Aisin Gioro chose to paint the actress because of the good works she does for the poor, which includes volunteering as a teacher in rural areas of China.
Aisin Gioro said she showed her work last year at Art! Vancouver at a booth shared with other artists. This year, she’s showing on her own.
“I like (Art! Vancouver) because it’s a really good chance to show your art and connect with people,” she said.
Aisin Gioro said the exhibition is the best way for thousands of people to see her work. In its first year in 2015, Art! Vancouver drew about 8,000 curious art lovers to see paintings, drawings, sculptures and other artworks underneath the sails at Canada Place.
Aisin Gioro, who started painting at age five, was taught by Yifei Chen, one of China’s most commercially successful painters known for depicting both Mao Zedong and European-style, romantic portraits and landscapes.
The former investment consultant returned to painting in 2010 after giving birth to a daughter. She’ll also be showing older work by other artists in her family.
Earlier this month, Aisin Gioro officially opened her gallery on East Pender. It’s located in the heart of Chinatown, where the legacy of Sun Yat-sen, the democrat who played a key role in the revolution to topple Puyi in 1911-12, is celebrated by the local Chinese Canadian community. Dr. Sun Yat-sen Chinese Garden is named in honour of the political activist and first president of the Republic of China.
Aisin Gioro’s gallery sells her paintings and displays works dedicated to explaining the Qing dynasty. Near the front of the narrow building on facing walls are rich, gold-coloured prints showing all 11 Qing dynasty emperors in very formal, frontal poses seated on a throne. The 12th and final emperor is Puyi. Unlike the others, it stands out as a stark black-and-white photograph of the young monarch.
Late in life, Puyi became an easy target for the Communists. During the Cultural Revolution, the former emperor was singled out by Red Guard extremists as a symbol of the old China. For his own safety, he was placed under protective custody by Premier Zhou Enlai. Puyi died at 61 on Oct. 17, 1967.
Other highlights of Art! Vancouver include an art runway on Thursday where artists will carry their paintings as if they were models displaying clothing. One of the new events the year is a traditional fashion show by local designer Nancy Lord, who paints directly onto her clothing. About 100 artists are showing in the fair this year, said director Lisa Wolfin.
Most of the city’s local galleries are not taking part, said Wolfen. Instead, she said Art! Vancouver is focusing on connecting individual artists with viewers.
“We’re going forward with artists,” she said. “The comments we had from last year was that people liked to meet the artists. We’re staying with where we’re going. If galleries want to participate, great. If not, fine.”
Art! Vancouver opens Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre — East. Tickets range from $17.69 (with service charges and taxes) for general admission to $27.95 for the opening night gala.