THE Asia Society in Hong Kong recently held an exhibition featuring the works of Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara entitled “Life Is Only One.” Famed for his haunting portraits of large-eyed children juxtaposed against dangerous scenarios, the oil painter has inspired artists all around the world to challenge themselves and forge new connections.
For the end of the exhibition, the Asia Society decided to host a competition in which artists could submit work based on Nara’s aesthetics. The contest received hundreds of entries. Entries were divided into three sections: a child division for children aged 6-11, a youth division for teenage artists aged 12-17 and an open division for anyone 18 and over.
The competition’s champion was South African Shenzhen resident Bronwen Shelwell, an art lecturer at the OCT campus of Shenzhen Polytechnic’s International Foundation College, for her glass nest sculpture entitled “Home.”
“Inspiration for this artwork came from my own interpretation of Nara’s process, an artist I have admired for years,” said Shelwell. “I wanted to find a way to express a similar innocence, as he does with his childlike imagery, with a subconscious, violent twist. I took the familiar form of a nest — a symbol of home, safety and innocence — but constructed it out of the fragile, delicate, but also dangerous material of glass. In line with Nara’s process, the base of the glass nest was made out of found material — the broken glass of a car window scattered on the side of a road. I collected the shards and then made a mold, which I melted the glass into. On this base, I assembled glass rods, each one worked into a natural shape over a gas flame. I then built the nest piece by piece, as a child or bird would do.
“The nest is empty. I wanted there to be something read in its vacancy, something familiar, as with Nara’s imagery, but unnerving at the same time. I took an object always associated with warmth and safety but displayed it with a palpable loss.”
Shelwell has lived in Shenzhen for several years and frequently contributes to the Hong Kong art scene. “I go to Hong Kong often to see the latest exhibitions at contemporary art galleries. I feel this keeps me up to date with current trends, gives me inspiration. It also helps me be a better lecturer for my students and a better artist. I have worked with a few galleries, mostly behind the scenes in curating or writing about exhibitions and preparing for Art Basel, which was recently launched in Hong Kong.”
On Sunday the Asia Society hosted an awards ceremony — also presented by the Hong Kong Jockey Club — and finalists got to exhibit their pieces in a new show.
Shelwell was excited when she heard the news that she won the championship in the adult division. “I felt incredibly happy! It is my first time actually exhibiting one of my pieces in Hong Kong. I’ve exhibited in other countries and I have a few clients that I make artwork for in Hong Kong, but this is the first time I’ve had my art displayed in a gallery here. It was so overwhelming that the exhibition theme was based on an artist I love, and the space was the Asia Society, one of the most beautiful gallery spaces in Hong Kong.”
Shelwell also believes this is good news for Shenzhen. “I think it is a wonderful thing that artwork from Shenzhen was admitted and did well in a Hong Kong exhibition. I think this was a wonderful opportunity for the Shenzhen art community as a whole to be recognized in Hong Kong.”