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Zhang Yanzi's ongoing show on herbs, happiness and healing

Time:2017-11-28   Source:China Daily



The show The Ecstasy displays Zhang Yanzi's exploration of happiness. Medicinal herbs are one of the major subjects of the Beijing-based artist's ink paintings.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Two years ago, Chinese painter Zhang Yanzi traveled to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, and found the local brew ayahuasca, which is made from plants and is said to have hallucinogenic properties. The drink is used in spiritual medicine there.

After she returned to China from that trip, Zhang devoted her time to reading books on traditional Chinese medicine to research herbs used to relieve pain - a subject of interest to her for many years.

Then, she says it struck her that some medicines ease pain by "generating illusion".

As a result, the traditional painter's ongoing solo show, The Ecstasy, is being held in Beijing, showing her focus shifting from the art of healing to the art of finding happiness in her works.

The display that started on Nov 18 has dozens of ink-wash paintings she has produced in the past three years, including the Herb and Prescription series and long scrolls, all of which are the artist's exploration of happiness.

Gao Difei, curator of the show, says the traditional Chinese character for the word "medicine" consists of two parts. One stands for "herb" and the other for "happiness".

"I think it's ancient Chinese people's understanding of medicine - a thing that can make people happy after consumption," says Gao. "It's about how to cure both the body and mind."

Having studied books on TCM, Zhang says she came across names of some ancient pills that are both romantic and convey a sense of happiness.


The show The Ecstasy displays Zhang Yanzi's exploration of happiness. Medicinal herbs are one of the major subjects of the Beijing-based artist's ink paintings.[Photo provided to China Daily]

For instance, a herbal medicine used to treat chronic hepatitis is named Xiaoyaosan, which literally translates to "happiness medicine".

Zhang says ancient people were concerned with overall remedy rather than focusing on bodily treatment alone.

"In fact, to feel happy and to relieve pain are the same. You don't have to rely on things to bring you happiness. Our brain creates it," says the 50-year-old artist.

She also asked her friends what made them happy. The answers varied, she says. Some said mahjong (a Chinese board game), while others said cigarettes, smartphones, music, food, religion or books. The artist has translated the answers into her Prescription series by depicting such things on paper.

The Herb series includes many plants that are used in traditional medicine but also have hallucinogenic properties. For example, wormwood can help ease joint pain and also be made into a drink that can cause hallucinations.

Zhang's previous works and shows have also related to traditional medicine, which is why she was dubbed an "artist of healing" by some critics. She has depicted syringes, pills, stethoscopes and scalpels in her ink works.

Her concentration on such subjects goes back to 2000, when her husband became ill and her parents passed away one after the other. It brought her great sorrow and pain.

The reflection of pain has since been in the Beijing-based artist's works.

Zhang's last solo show in Beijing in 2013 was titled The Remedy, with more than 100 paintings exploring both physical and spiritual remedies.

As for the artist's take on "ecstasy", the title of her ongoing exhibition, she uses a poem written by the warlord and poet Cao Cao from the Three Kingdoms period (220-280). "The wine, the song, life goes on. But for how long? It evaporates, to our dismay. Like the morning dew, day after day."

If you go

10 am-6 pm, through Dec 28. Feefan's art gallery, 7 Dongsihuan Beilu, Chaoyang district, Beijing.