Gu Wenda Masterpiece on Display at Foshan Lingnan Tiandi

A Contemporary Ritual of Filial Piety on Mother's Day
"The body, hair and skin are all received from the parents, and so one doesn't dare to damage them -- that is the beginning of filial piety." - Classic of Filial Piety
"Filial Piety is the principle of Heaven, The righteousness of Earth, And the (proper) conduct of the people." - Zeng Zi
2014-05-20 19:28 1157

FOSHAN, Guangdong Province, China, May 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Foshan Lingnan Tiandi is delighted to have commissioned a new public art project, Filial Piety, created by one of the most celebrated contemporary artists, Gu Wenda. "Public Art Day", a citywide community event involving the participations of local residents was held to inaugurate this public art project on Mother's Day, May 11, 2014.

Foshan Lingnan Tiandi is an international development project of Shui On Land in downtown Foshan, with reference to their successful model of Shanghai Xintiandi. With 22 cultural heritages, the project showcases a perfect integration of commercial value and historical buildings, blending fashionable elements and modern facilities with cultural heritage. Foshan Lingnan Tiandi, an international property project encompassing tourism, entertainment, commercial and cultural facilities will become a new landmark in South China.

Born in 1955, Gu Wenda studied traditional Chinese landscape painting at China Academy of Arts. He emerged as an important artist in the late 1980s in China when he initiated a new phase of Chinese Conceptual Ink Art. Starting then, he began to use human bodily materials in his art with the intention of celebrating the origins of life and promoting the universality of mankind. Gu is best known for the use of pseudo-languages in his artworks, for he believes that the use of language is limited in addressing the uncertainty of our world.

Gu Wenda's large scale hair curtain titled Filial Peity has now been installed at the Yuanji Huanggong Ancestral Temple in Foshan Lingnan Tiandi. Founded in Qing Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the Yuanji Huanggong Ancestral Temple adopts the typical architectural style of Lingnan ancestral hall. The owner of the Yuanji Huanggong Ancestral Temple was Huang Yuanji who was famous for producing gold decorations in Foshan. The ancestral hall was initially located on Fuxian Road and has now been selected to be the site for this public art commission after its relocation to Foshan Lingnan Tiandi.

Made of 20 kg of hair collected from a hair salon, Filial Piety uses human hair to re-establish the physical and bodily origin for the idea of Filial Piety. As stated in the Classic of Filial Piety, "The body, hair and skin are all received from the parents, and so one doesn't dare to damage them -- that is the beginning of filial piety." Gu believes that hair contains the very DNA in which we inherit from our ancestors. By using hair to create a new hybrid character of Xiao (Filial Piety) and Dao (The Way), or what the artist calls pseudo character, this artwork is a way to acknowledge our biological and cultural inheritance, to pay respect to our past generations, and more importantly reinvent the tradition of calligraphy as one of the most representative art forms of traditional Chinese culture.

Through this project, the artist hopes to raise the public awareness of the traditions and culture founded by our ancestors. On the other hand, it strives to promote and educate the public about contemporary art in order to revitalize the cultural lives of the people in Foshan. Gu stated his intention, "I hope this artwork can be used to celebrate and honor one's ancestors in Foshan. This public art project provides an opportunity for the public to show respect to their ancestors and learn about the history, culture and traditions of their nation. I hope this artwork can also revitalize the ancestral hall and its original intended function."

Xiao Dao or the way of filial piety represents one of the core values of Chinese culture in bringing peace and harmony to society, more importantly, maintaining harmonious relationships with heaven and earth. According to Confucius, "Filial piety is the root of all virtues…It begins in serving one's parents. Loyalty to one's ruler is the second stage of the completion of the virtue. Finally, to fulfill one's filial duty, one needs to cultivate his character so as to bring glory to his parents." The principle of filial piety is not solely directed towards respecting one's parents and ancestors, but a spiritual pursuit to seek an inner peace with heaven and earth. As stated by Zeng Zi, a disciple of Confucius, "Xiao is the principle of Heaven, the righteousness of Earth, and the (proper) conduct of the people."

To honour this idea, the inaugural ceremony was held in conjunction with Public Art Participation Day, a city-wide public art event in Foshan Lingnan Tiandi. The event was held on 11th May (Mother's Day), in order to commemorate the ancestors of our nation. A spectacular public performance art event was led by Gu that involved the participation of a thousand local primary students in Foshan. Gu and the students used traditional Chinese calligraphy to write the Classic of Filial Piety or Xiao Jing on red silk fabrics to honour filial piety. This performance art piece was a ritual meant to observe filial piety, as well as to symbolize the worshipping of heaven and earth.

On 2nd March 2013, a community event conceived by Gu was held as a prelude to the installation of this magnificent hair curtain artwork. 40 local primary students and 14 pairs of parents and children were invited to have haircuts in Foshan Lingnan Tiandi as a ritual. The hair collected at this event has been used in the creation of Gu's hair curtain, so that local Foshan residents and indeed the DNA of their ancestors have become an integral part of this work of art.

Gu Wenda is renowned for the use of human bodily materials in his art. In 2006, he was commissioned by Dartmouth College, United States, to create a series of public art installations titled "United Nations: United Colors" and "United Nations: The Green House" respectively by using more than 430 pounds of hair of approximately 42,500 Dartmouth College students.


  • Inauguration ceremony: 11th May, 2014
  • Venue: Yuanji Huanggong Ancestral Temple, Lingnan Tiandi, Tiandi Road, Chancheng District, Foshan, Guandong Province


Hair bears different symbolic meanings in different cultures. In Chinese culture, hair represents the ancestral lineage. As stated in the Classic of Filial Piety, "The body, hair and skin are all received from the parents, and so one doesn't dare to damage them -- that is the beginning of filial piety." Hair contains the very DNA which we inherit from our ancestors. Using hair to make this artwork is a way to acknowledge our biological and cultural inheritance and to pay respect to our past generations.

Through this artwork, I hope that the relocated and rebuilt ancestral hall can be reinvigorated and enriched with the contemporary elements. The Yuanji Huanggong Ancestral Temple will be a communal ancestral hall for the people of Foshan. People can seek their roots by visiting the site and witnessing the hair curtain artwork which contains the bodily materials related to their ancestors. The pseudo-character of Xiao Dao is used to evoke the limitations of human knowledge. I try to reinterpret the traditional way of filial piety. The synthesis of Chinese pseudo characters displayed in the ancestral hall represents how people continue to respect the traditional rituals and values in the modern time.

I hope this artwork can be used to celebrate and honour one's ancestor in Foshan. This public art project provides an opportunity to the public to show respect to their ancestors and learn the history, culture and traditions of their nation.


Gu Wenda was born in Shanghai, China in 1955. He graduated from Shanghai School of Arts in 1976. In 1981, he received his M.F.A. from China Academy of Arts where he studied under the classical landscape painting master, Lu Yanshao and where he taught from 1981 to 1987. He moved to the USA in 1987.

Since 1981, Gu has participated in numerous international solo and group exhibitions held in various renowned art institutions such as the British Museum, England, the Victoria and Albert Museum, England, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the USA, as well as biennales like the Venice Biennales, Lyon Biennale and Istanbul Biennale. He had a survey exhibition for the first time in his artistic career at the National Gallery of Australia in 2001-2002. The countries and regions that have shown his work include China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Israel, Australia, Germany, Norway, France, Russia, the Netherlands, Italy, Britain, Mexico, Switzerland, Sweden, South Africa, Poland, Brazil, Canada, Turkey and the United States. Gu's works have been being showcased in an exhibition "Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China" from 11 December 2013 to 6 April 2014 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.

Gu's works are widely collected by a number of prominent Chinese and overseas art institutions such as Shanghai Museum of Art, Shanghai, China, the British Museum, London, England, York University, Toronto, Canada, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, China, Royal Hapsburg Collection, Germany, Kent & Vicki Logan Art Foundation, San Francisco, USA, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, USA, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA and various private collections.


China Xintiandi is an owner, operator and manager of premium commercial properties in China, nurturing vibrant communities and commercially thriving districts built around the idea of 'live, work and play'. China Xintiandi delivers innovative experiences for consumers and long-term value for businesses guided by our mission to 'bring places to life, and life to places'. Established by parent company Shui On Land as a strategic move to capture opportunities in China's commercial property sector, China Xintiandi is well placed to tap into a growing market driven by massive urbanization and expanding domestic consumption.

The Company focuses principally on owning, managing, marketing and enhancing retail, office, entertainment and hotel properties under the acclaimed Xintiandi brand.


D3E Art Ltd. is an art consultancy with a mission to educate, promote, and showcase Contemporary Asian Art. The artists whom D3E Art promote are at the forefront of Contemporary Art -- they are artists who constantly experiment with new mediums, new forms of expression, and who have broken through their own barriers of language and culture to become established figures within the International Art World. Through both private and public exhibitions, and increasingly through collaborative public art installations, D3E Art is committed to creating an ongoing international awareness and appreciation for Contemporary Asian Art.

Source: Foshan Lingnan Tiandi
Keywords: Art Entertainment