Made in China

Sister Ursula Horan OP

Several years ago  there was a wonderful exhibition in the Turbine Hall in Tate Modern on the South Bank in London. It was called “Sunflowers Seeds”.

The Exhibitor was Ai Wei Wei, a Chinese Artist. The Exhibition consisted  of one hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds. Each seed was handmade. The traditional way of producing porcelain was used for each seed, from mining the clay, to polishing, and to painting. One of the things that fascinated me was the painting of each seed.

The artist said that experienced people could paint a seed using three strokes of a brush whereas the less skilful needed to use four strokes of the brush. It took 1600 people two and a half years to produce this piece of art. The people worked in tiny workshops and often took seeds home to paint at odd moments. It was a piece of art and a way of living for them at that time. The exhibition looked like a beach. Part of the experiencing of this piece of art, was to walk on it but health and safety rules forbid it lest it created dust. What a pity!

It is a thought provoking sculpture. Porcelain is almost synonymous with China. The Artist deliberately chose to produce sunflower seeds in porcelain because during the famine in Chairman Mao’s regime they were one of the reliable sources of food, comfort and interaction as well as being a gesture of compassion and kindness in that time of extreme poverty.

For the Artist it symbolises the Chinese people. Seen through his eyes the sculpture is a political statement about the relationship between the rulers and the ruled in China. It is the result of people using their individual skills and working together.

For me now, the Label “Made in China” has a very different meaning.

Prayer: God we thank you for Artists who help us to see things in a new way. Thank you for helping us to see we are all individuals and whether skilled or unskilled we contribute to the rich pattern of life. Amen.

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