IMMERSIA 2023: Illustration and Translation of Mexican Indigenous Poetry into Chinese Mandarin

Venue: Australian Centre on China in the World, ANU, Canberra, Australia.

Date: 15th to the 21st of September 2023.

A unique solo exhibition unfolded at the Australian Centre on China in the World at the ANU. The exhibition was thoughtfully divided into four sections; A, B, C and D. Each section representing a distinct facet of artistic exploration and cultural bridging from the artist Gabriel Nezahualpilli Covarrubias Hernandez.

This exhibition was featured as part of IMMERSIA 2023, a flagship festival hosted by the ANU School of Culture, History & Language (CHL). It received support from the ANU Latin America Week, the Mexican Embassy in Australia, Clandestino Canberra, and the ANU Latin American Students Association (LASA).

Section A: Illustration + Translation of Mexican Indigenous Poetry to Chinese Mandarin.

Title: “La Lengua de los Pájaros” (The Song of Birds)《鸟之歌》 (2019, Xi’an, China).

“Photos: Ambassador of Mexico in Australia, Eduardo Peña Haller, and Santiago Cortes Alcocer, Head of Political and Cultural Affairs at the Embassy of Mexico with the artist Gabriel Nezahualpilli Covarrubias Hernandez presenting his book “Song of Birds” (鸟之歌)”.

This visionary project drew its inspiration from four poems within “La Lengua de los Pájaros” (The Song of Birds)《鸟之歌》 by the renowned author Juan Hernandez Ramírez. Developed under the guidance of Professor Dang Rui from Shaanxi Normal University, this project came to life in the Faculty of Fine Arts in 2019, marking its inaugural edition.

The project transcended linguistic boundaries, translating these poetic treasures into Chinese Mandarin and rendering them in the elegant Chinese calligraphy script known as “kaishu” (楷书). Remarkably, this artistic endeavor incorporated four languages: English, Spanish, Nahuatl, and Chinese Mandarin.

Calligraphy, illustration, and book design were orchestrated by Gabriel Nezahualpilli Covarrubias Hernandez, who crafted this project as a graduation project for his Master’s Degree at Shaanxi Normal University, Xi’an, China, in 2019.

This exhibition attracted distinguished visitors, including Ambassador Eduardo Peña Haller, Ambassador of Mexico in Australia, who found the artwork intriguing and beautiful. Ambassador Peña Haller noted that the book masterfully merged poetry and painting. During the exhibition, a copy of the artist’s book was graciously presented to Ambassador Peña Haller.

Furthermore, Santiago Cortes Alcocer, Head of Political and Cultural Affairs at the Embassy of Mexico, also attended and was captivated by the project’s unique fusion of the Nahuatl language with artistic expression.

Juan Hernández Ramírez, a celebrated Nahua poet from the community of Colatlán in the municipality of Ixhuatlán de Madero, Veracruz, Mexico, has woven his life experiences in the Huasteca region into his poetry. These foundational experiences have indelibly marked his literature and deep respect for the Earth. With five published books of poetry and numerous forthcoming works, his voice continues to resonate.

Section B: Acrylic and Ink Paintings, Collection of Works 2023, Sydney, Australia

Artworks in Section B offer a captivating exploration of deep black ink using a traditional Chinese maobi brush (毛笔). This venerable tool, historically reserved for calligraphy and landscape painting in China, imparts its unique character to explore the interplay of light, shapes, softness, and strength of brushstrokes.

These artworks seamlessly fuse the art of brushwork, reminiscent of the graceful strokes of traditional Chinese calligraphy, with the infusion of solid acrylic colours. This union of techniques creates visual rhythms where each element, from the profound black ink to the vibrant acrylic colours, contributes to the narrative within the paper.

Section C: Acrylic and Ink Paintings, Collection of Works 2020-2021, Sydney Australia

This series of paintings comprises five pieces, each born amidst the challenges of the 2020-2021 pandemic. These works, marrying acrylic and ink, reflect a collection of profound artistic expressions.

“Old Tree” notably bears the influence of Chinese Landscape painting, signed with the artist’s seal and Chinese name, 高博尔 (Gāo Bó’ěr). Crafted on rice paper with ink imported from Xi’an, China, this piece evokes the essence of tradition.

The remaining artworks represent an exploration beyond the artist’s typical training. “Night Stars and Ocean” emerges as a pivotal work in this series, signaling the artist’s foray into acrylic painting over black ink (moshui 墨水). Moshui ink, traditionally employed in China for landscape painting and calligraphy, adds a historical depth to this contemporary piece. This fusion of traditional Chinese ink techniques with the modern medium of acrylic painting marks an exciting departure from the artist’s typical style and techniques, exploring the intersection of tradition and innovation during this challenging period.

Section D: National Marine Culture Poster Design Contest – Poster Collection 2017-2018, Shanghai, China

The National Marine Culture Poster Design Contest is an annual competition held in Shanghai by the China Ocean University Press 中国海洋大学 in Qingdao, Shandong province. The contest focuses on raising awareness about the responsible use of marine resources and the protection of marine life.

The artist participated in two consecutive years, 2017 and 2018, earning excellence prizes each time. Winners are granted the opportunity to exhibit their work in Shanghai, engage in public discussions about their art, and have their work featured in a book alongside collections from students across China. This provides a valuable platform to connect with students, academics, and fellow artists.

“If I Were a Fish” is a poignant work that underscores the importance of responsible marine resource usage and addresses issues of overfishing. The artist employed a variety of materials, including wire, metals, and playdough, to convey the message. The background texture, carefully crafted with a maobi brush, adds movement and depth to the piece.

In 2018, a series of posters titled “The Arctic Ocean” was designed, symbolizing the archetypal family’s journey – a mother, father, and son. Whales in the artwork, representing family, move gracefully as they follow the light over the mountains. Their movement might signify migration or the search for a feeding ground.

This artwork drew inspiration from a flight over the Arctic in 2018, where the artist beheld the vast expanse of ice and felt a profound connection to the whales, symbolising family and hope.

The exhibition’s soundtrack was thoughtfully curated by Clandestino Canberra, featuring an exquisite blend of music from Bié Records meets Shika Shika and Ancestral Music Label.