In China, pairs of carved stone lions (shi, 狮) are placed as guardians outside entrances to convey protection and noble authority. Artist Qin Feng has taken this traditional architectural ornament and activated it with new energy. The highly stylized representations of lions that incorporate elements of other animals in Chinese art evolved from Buddhist tales from India that entered China via Tibet. The stone lions in this sculpture, although positioned traditionally, have been cleaved in half. Each pair of halves is separated to hold a large glass plate etched with grandiose calligraphic brushwork loosely based on the Chinese characters zhong (中, center) and mei (美, beauty). These “characters” allude to the nations of China (Zhongguo) and America (Meiguo) and the cultures of East and West, but are placed in the opposite direction from their traditional association, inverting expectations and calling into question these divisions.
The introduction of imagery that invokes a calligrapher’s energetic brushwork, the violent “slicing” of the sculpture, and the prominence of the artist’s hand in a sculptural form – that was usually the work of anonymous artisans – are all means by which he addresses and interrogates this subject. Works like this are the result of careful study of the intersections of cultures in art throughout history, and the continued encounters between artists, art history, and the global forces that push the boundaries between culture and artistic media.