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Xuewu Zheng's meditative art now on display in Hanes Art Center gallery

Xuewu Zheng’s exhibition “One’s Religion” will remain on display at the Hanes Art Center until Nov. 30.

Philosophy, religion and history are intertwined in Xuewu Zheng’s exhibition “One’s Religion” at the Hanes Art Center. 

The exhibition, housed in the John and June Allcott Gallery, features five installations from Zheng, a former UNC visiting printmaking professor. It opened on Oct. 24 with a gallery talk and reception and will close on Nov. 30. 

Zheng said he got the ideas for the installations, which use mediums like prints, acrylic and charcoal, during his meditation sessions at his studio in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. 

“For me, I want to talk to people, ‘Look what I’m thinking, my way of life,' like meditation is kind of my religion,” he said. 

Zheng was born in Heilongjiang, a province in China, and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Harbin Normal University in Harbin, China. Zheng spent 50 years in China as a professional artist until he moved to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 2012

Almost every month, Zheng has solo and group exhibitions in college museums or galleries worldwide. 

The drawings from one of the Hanes Art Center installations, “World,” are part of Zheng’s thesis from State University of New York at New Paltz, where he received a Master’s of Fine Arts in printmaking, as well as painting and drawing. It is a series of four charcoal drawings of detailed and abstract, organic forms. 

He began the series, which consists of 17 drawings in total, during the summer of 2021 and used dark coloring from charcoal pencils to represent the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world.

Kappa Kappa Gamma distinguished professor of art Beth Grabowski was a colleague of Zheng’s when he taught at UNC in 2004. She said the drawings from this installation relate to feelings of isolation. 

“The pieces reference the body and bodily fluids,” she said. “There’s one there that’s rather phallic if you look closely at it, so I think it’s this idea of longing for touch and connection. They were very specific to that time of when we couldn’t be with each other in a physical way.”

To create another installation, “Meditation,” Zheng hand-printed Chinese characters and engraved small images to create illustrations. He started the series of prints 20 years ago, but the eight on display are from the past two years. 

Another printmaking work, “Fragment of Time,” hangs to the right of “Meditation.” The center of the piece features an unnamed Chinese girl printed several times. The acrylic paintings to the left and right are a shade of copper — reminiscent of the Bronze Age in China — and include the girl, though her form is obscured. 

Zheng intentionally did this faded printing as part of a Chinese folk tradition, according to his Oct. 13 Instagram post. It is representative of joss paper, also known as incense paper, which is burned to honor the dead and symbolize money and good wishes. 

In his travels, Zheng collects local newspapers. In this exhibit, he used them in “Century Text,” an arrangement of rolled newspapers assembled in a slowly-escalating stack.

Emilie Houssart, the artistic director at nonprofit arts organization Unison Arts in New Paltz, N.Y., and a faculty member at SUNY New Paltz, was Zheng’s studio neighbor in 2013. She said Zheng processes cultural material in his artwork. 

“The whole time when Xuewu was moving through the world, he is processing bits of paper and material that encapsulate the way language is distributed or the way that cultural information is distributed or often thrown away,” Houssart said

This summer, Zheng traveled to Mongolia, where he purchased a Bible translated into Mongolian, which he used in another gallery installation also entitled “Meditation.”

In the piece, the book sits in front of a large pile of twists of newspaper and pages from the Bible. He said the action of twisting the paper was his performance of meditation. The newspapers contain the stories, politics and life of the world, and the Bible contains the human spirit, he said.   

Grabowski said people should visit Zheng’s exhibit because of the size and complexity of the works. 

“It’s a strategy of making people pay attention when it’s clear you care about every mark that you make, then people respect the work, and so I think the work garners that kind of respect,”  Grabowski said.  “So it’s impressive when you look at it from afar and it holds up as you get closer and closer.”


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