Reconfiguring the World: China. Art. Agency,
1900s to Now

This research project takes modern and contemporary Chinese art as a field for thinking more broadly about the challenges of intercultural communication in the twenty-first century.


To what extent do limitations of cultural and historical awareness prevent us from accessing the full range of effects and meanings inherent in a work of art? How does our understanding of a work of art change if we view it from a distance, within an expanded historical time period, or from close up, closer to the life circumstances (personal, social, political) of the artist who made it, or in relation to changes in technology or medium, or in terms of the mobilisation of art in service of a cause? How often are understandings based on misunderstanding?

The research project focuses on key works of art and visual culture that have played a role in creating an image or understanding of China or Chinese art both within and beyond the Chinese world. By analysing the circumstances of the creation and production of these art works and their cultural foundations it becomes possible to articulate and probe complex contexts of influence and interaction that are both Sinophone (emerging from the Chinese-speaking world) and engaged with world currents. The project takes account of the mobility of people and ideas across time and space and the agency of artworks variously to transcend national and cultural boundaries and yet to resist translation in universal terms.

Artists around whose artistic vision this research orbits include Huang Binhong, Xu Beihong, Lin Fengmian, Ye Qianyu and Dai Ailian, Huang Xinbo, Ding Yanyong, Xiao Lu and Cai Guo-Qiang, as well as international figures such as Ian Fairweather and Hedda Hammer Morrison. Using multiple perspectives, recovered histories and expanded contexts, the research project seeks to develop a new conceptual framework for thinking about modern and contemporary Chinese art in the twenty-first century. In a rapidly changing geopolitical world we can learn much from the visual storytelling of artists as sensitive mediators of complex forces.

Image credit

Guan Wei. Zheng He and Columbus (detail), mural painting, acrylic on medium density fibre board (MDF), painted for the exhibition, 'Other histories: Guan Wei's fable for a contemporary world', Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2006-2007. Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Donated through the Australian Government Cultural Gifts Program by Guan Wei, 2010. Photo: Jean-Francois Lanzarone. With copyright permission of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) and the artist.

The ARC Future Fellowship research project led by Dr Claire Roberts Reconfiguring the World: China. Art. Agency. 1900s to Now is funded by the Australia Research Council (FT140100743) and the Faculty of Arts, School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne.

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Project details


ARC Future Fellow funding commencement: 2014 (active)
Faculty of Arts, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

Project team

Associate Professor Claire Roberts, ARC Future Fellow, Associate Professor, Art History, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne


Associate Professor Claire Roberts