There are places that, due to their own historical background, myths and legends, become stages for all fictions that blend into each artist in a most unique way.
António Conceição Júnior

INTRODUCTION
A brief visitation to the past
Macao has become through the pages of its history, the first meeting place between a small country in the westernmost part of Europe and the fabled Cathay. This circumstance of history, almost five centuries old, has in a most definite way shaped the collective unconscious so dear to Carl Jung.
In today’s approach to art, it is not possible anymore to define it in an authoritative or nationalistic way as information is shared all over the world. Nonetheless, the city of Macao does interact with its inhabitants in a most unique way, providing most of the sources of thought from where an authentic local expression has established itself from various sources. This collective idiosyncrasy has a plural expression that has seen its consolidation from earlier forms that can be traced back to the times when the Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione, alias Lang Shining, made his way into the Qing court and gently operated a transformation on the rendition of Chinese portraiture.
Throughout the days of George Chinnery, Thomas Boswall Watson, Auguste Borget, foreign artists from the 19th century that somehow helped create the so called China Trade style of paintings, until the mid 40s when George Vitalievitch Smirnoff, another foreign artist lived in Macao and portrayed the city in magnificently rendered watercolors, local artists were gaining momentum.

Institutional roles
The first movements for creating the instruments by institutions to provide the necessary background for the fostering of the arts can be located in the very late 1970s. The Luis de Camões Museum was such a case when it was refurbished and a temporary art gallery, the first one to exist, was established in a consistent way in order to provide the necessary space for a systematic exhibition program to serve the community and the artists. Not much later, the Macao Cultural Institute took shape and provided other areas of support for the artistic community.
Of all the artists who emerged at this vestibular period, the one who incorporated a link to the traditional lineage of artists depicting Macao was Ung Vai Meng.
His early drawings of Macao struck me for the very free strokes that broke with tradition and showed a new and bold vision arising and pointing directly to a changing expression.
By the early 80s there was also much talk about a Cultural Center that I had proposed in 1977. It was an indispensable instrument for the fostering of culture in general, the reinforcement of the city’s identity, as well as a place of interaction.
In 1985 the City Council inaugurated the Leal Senado 1 Gallery, located at the city’s main square which by then provided another place that would be the heart of visual arts during the second half of the 1980s and most of the 1990s. It was also run by the Luis de Camões Museum.
Around 1985, and due to the huge demand of local artists to exhibit under the limited schedule of the Museum Gallery, an annual Macao Collective Artists Exhibition was set as a response for this demand, the early awards being changed into more ambitious trips to Museums in Europe. This Annual event still runs.
By the second half of the 1980s an Art Academy was set up by the Macao Cultural Institute, providing introductory courses to beginners as well as various seminars run by visiting artists.
Finally the institutions were implementing some instruments.
The civil society would also have to respond and have their say on cultural matters as obvious.

The local art associations
Chinese people are known for their ability and vitality to organize themselves in various forms, amongst which Associations take an important role. This form of organization existed when I returned to Macao in 1977.
There were two prominent associations: Mei Xu Xie Hui Fine Arts Association and Yi Yuan Shu Hua Hui Association for Calligraphy and Traditional Painting. Both were formed in Macao and by the early 1980s absorbed many migrating artists that arrived from the mainland.
Both associations ran teaching classes of an academic nature. At the same time, other artists of Macanese 2 origin, which constituted a minority, begun either to return from their studies in Portugal or to make their own way.
Such was the case of Carlos Marreiros, a young architect who started to work at the Macao Cultural Institute heritage preservation. There he met Ung Vai Meng, and not too long afterwards a new association took shape under the name Circle of Culture Friends, which was mainly composed by the more avant garde artists, such as Carlos Marreiros, Ung Vai Meng, Vitor Marreiros, Mio Pang Fei from Shanghai and his wife, as well as Kwok Woon from Singapore and his wife Joana Ling.
These artists were to be later joined by others and would organize different exhibitions in Macao, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Portugal.
Meantime, other areas of expression were also taking shape. In 1986 the Macao Designers Association was formed and would soon see the civil service accept the designation of designer in its ranks and give it a career. It would be the government the one to benefit most from employing designers, thus adding another aesthetical expression to the social web of Macao.

The unifying identity
The multi ethnicity of artists from the much larger Chinese artists community of Macao, those others newly arrived and then locally embedded, the minority of Macanese artists, plus Portuguese artists and others from different nationalities that arrived and lived in Macao from the second half of the 1980s onwards were, together with institutional efforts, weaving the web of a global unified identity of Macao’s unique blend of cultures each in its own way, forming a body composed of diversities, yet unified by the same experience of living in Macao, the stage of all possible fictions and realities, a place to be deciphered only by those who lived here with an open heart.
The emergence of a new artistic identity was therefore the main response to different challenges posed by institutions dedicated to the arts and by the increase of cultural events.
Little by little, artists found the urge to travel abroad and keep attending exhibitions and other cultural events such as the Macao International Music Festivals.
Older artists saw their expression slowly change, and with the establishment of other professional artists such as Mio Pang Fei and Kwok Woon feverishly experimenting new ideas and shapes the Macao art scene started to affirm itself abroad.
Ung Vai Meng became a designer using his artistic background while Carlos Marreiros expressed the Macanese natural talent for the combination of cultural expressions and went into different phases always faithful for the cultures that expressed his cultural roots. Vitor Marreiros matured as a splendid graphic designer and became involved in painting. Meantime new generations of artists were taking shape after their experiences with the Art Academy, which was later absorbed by the Macao Polytechnic School of Arts and Design.

The Macao Museum Collection of Macao Contemporary Art
It all begun with the former Luis de Camões Museum launch of the Annual Macao Artists Collective Exhibition. The award winning paintings were chosen by an invited and independent jury, and as a result the winning awards started to fill the Museum’s Collections. Further exhibitions by local artists prompted the Museum to purchase some of the most significant works. Since 1999, with the opening of the new Macao Art Museum the policy has continued in order to record the history and evolution of Macao’s contemporary art.

A sample of the Macao Artists Exhibition
The Macao Art Museum is holding an exhibition of its collections since December 2003 until June 2004.
Amongst the artists on display and the rotation of its pieces throughout the exhibition period there are a wide variety of expressions as well as of artists origins, ranging from Hua Xiao 3 Chinese artists such as Kwok Woon and Mio Pang Fei to Australian born Dennis Murrell and Russian born Konstantin Bessmertny to Portuguese born Fernanda Dias and local artists such as Ung Vai Meng, the Museum Director, James Wong, trained in London, Lio Man Cheong, as well as Carlos Marreiros, and Frederico George, both Macanese, just to mention some of those who are in the first rotation.

Mio Pang Fei former vice-director of the Macao Academy of Arts, the Shanghai senior painter has found in Macao the heaven for the unleashing of his talent and creativity. Conscious and proud of his Chinese origin, the kind and gentle Mio is displaying a wonderful piece of collage and oil with Chinese writings. This senior artist has a twenty year career in Macao and an immense amount of paintings produced during this significant period.




 




Ung Vai Meng
presently director of the Museum of Art, has been an artist with a unique and amazingly bold evolution, and possibly one of the most open to Portuguese and European culture.
His assemblage piece on display dates from his early and very successful experiments in using a round Chinese dinner table top and European balcony pieces, a subtle statement of the Macao multi-cultural identity referred before. Ung has evolved into a more abstract expression through large canvases of rare beauty.

Kwok Woon the gentle and kind artist from Singapore, recently deceased after a prolonged illness which did not deprive him from painting and drawing up to the last moment is represented through old Chinese Army trucks oil and dirt stained canvases that he traded with astonished soldiers and then stretched and defaced from its primitive state by his intervention with oils. Remains to be seen if any political statement lies in these stunning pieces.



Lee Tak Shing is an artist that is a product of the most recent generations. Working at the Macao Art Museum as a photographer, his award winning map-like painting rendition of one of the archetypes of Macao, a 16th century map, intelligently juxtaposed with several icons and western and Chinese writings once more state the powerful transcultural identity of Macao.




 





Dennis Murrell
uses oil to reenact in large canvases a kind of geography made of stains of shui mu 4 technique inspiration. In other words, working on a path reverse to that of the Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione, who introduced the European portraiture technique to Chinese painting. In the work displayed hints of Chinese flower painting can be detected in his abstract-neo-figurative approach.

 




 



Konstantin Bessmertny who arrived in Macao in the late 1980s is one of the most successful artists abroad, with solo Exhibitions in the United States, London and South East Asia. This Russian born artist who speaks fluent Portuguese and English is an acute observer and chronicler, in his own way, of the fictions and realities of different levels of Macao’s society. His paintings are encrypted delirious narratives that somehow recall Pieter Bruegel. Definitely one of the most prolific and creative artists living today in Macao.


Carlos Marreiros
is one of the most prolific Macanese artists of his generation. Like Konstantin, a common friend, some of his works are and explosion of delirious creativity and affirmation of his identity as can be seen in this piece of a series he created as a form of totemic paintings with evident signs to be deciphered by the viewer. His style since the mid 80s has changed according to the stimulation of circumstances and his personal view of his surroundings.

Frederico George a hotel chain manager now stationed somewhere in South East Asia came into the art scene as a total surprise, showing a mature style, significant of his own personal history.







 

Fernanda Dias, a teacher, poet, writer and painter, formerly married to a French teacher, creates scenes encompassing stories of her infancy, flowers from Alentejo, her own writings on a canvas full of memories from an artist who, loving Macao dearly through her twenty years stay, contributes with her own distant roots to the body of Macao’s identity.
It is hereafter, through the examples of these artists to continue to accept the division between Eastern art and Western art in contemporary terms.


These brief examples do demonstrate the dynamism and diversity of roots of Macao art at its mature state. It is irrelevant to define schools or trends for Macao Art which is preparing to present itself in world Biennials while its quality and vitality has been put to test on the 2003 Phillipe Charriol Art Exhibition that was extended to Macao artists who, being a minority in all the entrants, took by storm the main Awards in all categories.

Such is the reinvigorating scenario of a small city that was capital to one of the earliest forms
of transculturalism.

Notes
1
The Leal Senado or Loyal Senate was the official title given in the 17th century to the Macau City Council during the Portuguese Administration, which at the time was run as a city-state inspired by the Athens experience.

2
Macanese is referred here as an ethnic designation for the direct descendants of the Portuguese. Each Macanese is a genetic pool and possesses an individual family history, so very often incorporating Chinese blood.

3
Hua Xiao or overseas Chinese as referred by Continental and Macao Chinese.

4
Shui mu or water and ink, the way it is said in Chinese to describe traditional media.

Article published at Yishujournal