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Chinese sculptures turning heads in Australia
With Asian art becoming increasingly prominent in Australia, one of China's most accomplished sculptors has brought his latest work to the country.

Xu Hongfei says his art, "Chubby Women", challenges the traditional notions of beauty.

Girish Sawlani reports.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: Asian art is becoming increasingly prominent around the world and artists from across the region are now showing their finest work in galleries and public spaces all over the globe.

Among them is one of China's most accomplished sculptors, Xu Hongfei.

Girish Sawlani reports.

GIRISH SAWLANI, REPORTER: Ballroom dancing, surfing and even skateboarding. These plus-size sculptures are turning heads in central Melbourne.

MELBOURNE RESIDENT: I thought it is amazing and initially I thought how unusual and then when I found out it was Chinese, or from China, it is even more unusual. They are actually really cool sculptures.

MELBOURNE RESIDENT 2: I think they are grotesque but... and amusing.

GIRISH SAWLANI: These sculptures are part of the 'Chubby Women' exhibition, they are the works of one of China's most accomplished modern sculptures, Xu Hongfei.

XU HONGFEI (TRANSLATED): Using an oriental style they are modelled on a universal language. So taking them to be exhibited in each country, many people greatly enjoy this type of artwork. It is very direct, not very deep nor complicated.

GIRISH SAWLANI: His world renowned sculptures have been displayed at Melbourne's Federation Square where curious onlookers were getting up close and personal with them.

XU HONGFEI (TRANSLATED): Putting the art works outside, it becomes a type of activity to let people interact with art works that are often distanced from the audience in a gallery. This is a more relaxed, intimate every day artwork, it lets people participate and interact with it.

MARCUS RUBENSTEIN, EXHIBITION CONSULTANT: These sculptures are fun, they are interactive. They appeal to children, to adults. A lot of people have said “Chubby Women”, this is very politically incorrect from a Western point of view, but women love them.

GIRISH SAWLANI: Xu Hongfei, who is also the President of the Guangzhou Academy of Sculpture believes art can be fun and amusing while incorporating tradition. With his meticulous use of white marble, precious wood and bronze, Mr Xu wants to leave viewers and onlookers with new ways to conceptualise beauty.

XU HONGFEI (TRANSLATED): Commonly you would assume most Chinese women are skinny, skinny may be just your impression of them. Now there are beginning to be some very fat women around. These sculptures, they are changing an image, changing the traditional perspective of art.

There are many women with these kinds of figures in Australia. I want to give them confidence, a healthy optimistic outlook and represent very joyful aspects of everyday life, their daily activities, love and music.

GIRISH SAWLANI: It appears that that message is getting across.

MELBOURNE RESIDENT 3: I thought they were lovely. I really liked them. They're a very joyous type of sculpture.

MELBOURNE RESIDENT 4: Just having some fun. Why not.

MELBOURNE RESIDENT 5: We don't normally see Chinese people very overweight. Also, I am just amazed that this particular one has strong... and how strong this man is, lifting up such a larger lady.

GIRISH SAWLANI: These sculptures are the first ever to be sponsored by the Chinese Government on Australian soil. And curators say it is part of a wider effort to build more sophisticated trade ties between the two countries.

MARCUS RUBENSTEIN: Australia and China have great trade ties at the moment. The problem with that is that our trade relies on bulk commodities. Nine out of our top 10 exports to China are bulk commodities. Tourism is the only major export to China that is in a growth phase and it is in a rapid growth phase. Last year Chinese tourists spent about $4.5 billion in Australia which is more than any other country's tourists. At current growth rates that is projected to grow to $10 billion within six to seven years.

GIRISH SAWLANI: Asian art now forms a significant part of Australia's cultural landscape. The total value of Asian works held in private and public collections are said to be worth well over $300 million. And with artists like Xu Hongfei gracing stages down under, Australians can look forward to more of such exhibitions in the coming years.

JIM MIDDLETON: Girish Sawlani reporting.
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