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How the panda became a work of art

THE panda is a cultural symbol closely related with China. Yet Zhao Bandi plays adroitly with his pandas, not as the treasured animal of China, but as his own cute and lovable companions. Wang Jie frames the questions.

The panda is an indispensable subject in Zhao Bandi's art and appears constantly on boxes, costumes, dolls and canvases.

Zhao's solo exhibition is running at 796 Huaihai Road, another space for the ShanghART Gallery, a high-end venue near Constantin and Dunhill.

The place is a perfect match for Zhao's retrospective show, as the artist is well known for his flamboyancy in life and art.

The official opening for Zhao's exhibition took place at the Kee Private Members Club. It is said that the cost of a dinner for each VIP was around 1,000 yuan (US$146).

The panda is a cultural symbol, perhaps too closely related with China.

Yet Zhao plays adroitly with his pandas, not as the treasured animal of China, but as his own cute and lovable companion.

He "talks" with pandas in his photographs, having brief daily dialogues, mentioning that "smoking is bad for health," or dressing them for catwalks in Paris.

"I don't want my art to be coveted by museums or galleries, let alone be a decoration in someone's home," he claims. "In my eyes, painting is dead, whether realistic, abstract or expressionistic. Here paintings are even categorized as catering to the taste of Chinese people or the Western people. Some people make money from such ventures. What a bore!"

Zhao decided to take a totally different path with no stereotypes. He plays an intelligent game but stays outside the current framework.

"I admire what Cezanne said: Don't fuse poetic feeling into the tableau, then the whole tableau will become poetic," he introduces.

Then why the panda and not another figure or animal?

"I thought of using a beautiful woman as a companion, but the visual effect is not satisfactory," he recalls. "My appearance doesn't belong to the mainstream, I am a bit alternative. So I need a buddy that is much more docile, mild and easy to approach.

"Moreover, the panda is not the kind of animal that renders any sexual message, otherwise it might dilute the power of my works with some vulgar tendencies."

It is a pleasant journey to walk the path that Zhao and his panda have strolled along before. Everything is clear, humorous and happy.

Perhaps sometimes the "unbearable lightness of the human being" is meant to be a panda.

Date: through May 10, 10am-7pm

Address: 1/F, 796 Huaihai Rd W.

Tel: 3395-0808


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