Searching around online for paintings of Confucius and expecting to find something classical, I found this contemporary image, completely de-idealized. Not for the ages, he belongs to our own place and time. He’s a stressed out silicon and steel colossus.
In the artist statement, Zhang Huan asks this question about tradition and change. “Faced with rapid economic and societal changes and energy and climate challenges, how can we achieve sustainable development? What responsibilities come along with China’s rise in international importance? Where is the sense of spiritual belonging for contemporary Chinese?”
Where indeed, offers Daniel K. Gardner at China Musings. “Confucius No. 2, half submerged, half emerged, invites us to consider whether the iconic Sage has a sustained, moral-spiritual role to play in China today. How fully will his age-old teachings and ideals connect with the needs of a country undergoing sweeping social, economic, and cultural changes? Will an updated, vital Confucius emerge from his relative insignificance in the 20th century –from the pummeling of the May 4th movement and then Mao’s cultural revolution– to serve as spiritual guide to the Chinese people in the 21st century? Zhang Huan offers no answers.”
Look carefully at the photograph. You can see what is perhaps a more powerful image than the figure itself in the reflection of the figure, the reflection of tradition in the pool of water, behind the geometric grid. How much different would a Babylonian rabbi look?