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LIU Xiaodong in South Africa

[Caption] Heading South to South Africa #12, 2014, Watercolor on Xuan Paper, 50 × 50 cm

“LIU Xiaodong in South Africa” will open at ESLITE GALLERY on 14 May, exhibiting the artist’s 50 works on paper and photo drawings. In this project, LIU adopts broader perspective to examine the lives in South Africa, resulting in these life drawings of people, wildlife, and landscapes. 


In August 2014, LIU Xiaodong, invited by fashion house Louis Vuitton, embarked on a project of life drawing in South Africa. Under his brush, the leopards, lions, and elephants are equipped with their own characters. “I feel I know him the moment I paint him,” said LIU. Like an anthropologist, he sees, investigates, records, and ponders over people and things, essentially everything that makes up life itself. He not only portrays their images but captures their vibrant souls in flesh and blood. In the following, we present some extracts from his “Flying to the South,” his diary during the project, which also becomes the concluding chapter of his collection One Centimeter: Diary of LIU Xiaodong


August 6, 2014

I left home at half past five in the morning and my flight took off for South Africa at 7:30 a.m.

All the way to Africa’s southernmost country.


A group of spirited elephants clogged up the road, followed at a good distance by a lone, seemingly bewildered [elephant]. The tour guide told me that he was being punished by the herd’s matriarch, the oldest and most experienced female, for some sort of faux pas.

Heading South to South Africa #03, 2014, Acrylic on Xuan Paper, 50 × 50 cm

Heading South to South Africa #24, 2015, Watercolor on Xuan Paper, 50 × 50 cm

Nature here is incredibly peaceful. The animals rarely run around or scuffle amongst themselves. You can’t hear the elephants trumpeting or the wolves howling. Lions aren’t likely to go after humans, because they can find plenty of food to eat with less effort. We are all familiar with the least-cost rule.

Heading South to South Africa #30, 2015, Watercolor on Xuan Paper, 50 × 50 cm

South Africa covers a land area one-ninth that of China, with a population of 30 million, 80% of which is classified as black, with the remainder considered as white, Indian/Asian or of mixed racial heritage. Nearly 80% of South Africans follow the Christian faith. Other major religious groups are Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists. There are more Buddhists here than in any other African country.

In 1652, South Africa became a Dutch colony. I was quite confused as to how a few dozen Dutchmen arriving in a ship, armed with guns and cannons, could have been able to subdue millions of blacks in South Africa.

In the 1680s, Huguenots from France began establishing wine estates in South Africa and were soon producing wines that became very popular.

The first British settlers began arriving in the 1820s, solidifying British control over the Cape Colony, which had been ceded to them by the Dutch in 1814. By the 1830s, tensions between the British and the Dutch resulted in the Great Trek, during which many thousands of Dutch settlers, called Afrikaners, left the colony to found Boer republics in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.


In the 1910s, South Africa became an independent country and the age of colonization was over.


Apartheid, the racial institution established in 1948 to ensure white domination of the country, formally ended in 1994 with the first election allowing participation by all adult voters.

Heading South to South Africa #35, 2015, Watercolor on Xuan Paper, 50 × 50 cm

Heading South to South Africa #39, 2015, Watercolor on Xuan Paper, 50 × 50 cm

Heading South to South Africa #37, 2015, Watercolor on Xuan Paper, 50 × 50 cm

I was gaining a deep admiration for the administrative system the British had brought to South Africa, which made this country operate in an orderly way. Its natural landscape was well protected, and no one could deny South Africa’s position as the most developed country in Africa.

Heading South to South Africa #47, 2015, Acrylic, Watercolor on Photo, 22.2 × 32 cm

Heading South to South Africa #45, 2015, Acrylic, Watercolor on Photo, 22.2 × 32 cm


“LIU Xiaodong in South Africa” works are compiled in a travel book published by LV.

LIU Xiaodong in South Africa

14 May—5 June 2016


Venue: ESLITE GALLERY | 5F, No. 11 Songgao Road, Taipei 11073 Taiwan

Opening Hours: 11am—7pm, Tuesdays—Sundays (closed on Mondays)

See artworks online

Opening & Book Signing Event

3pm, Saturday, 14 May (by invitation only)



Work Cited:

LIU Xiaodong’s “Flying to the South” collected in One Centimeter: Diary of LIU Xiaodong published by Guangxi Normal University Press in 2015.

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