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Curator Huang Du describes On Sharks & Humanity as an exhibition which comes close to Social Sculpture, the concept advocated for by Joseph Beuys. Simply put, Social Sculpture centres around the idea that art can be used to shape society. A social sculptor is an artist, who creates structures in society using language, thought, action, and objects.

This is the vein which runs throughout our current exhibition. Some of the works show the beauty and grace of sharks, in an attempt to awaken the viewer’s sense of aesthetic appreciation, while others show the barbarity of shark slaughter in an effort to stir the public’s sympathy. All have the common goal of promoting activism on the behalf of sharks.

The above close-up photographs reveal how the art works, both intricately created, have entirely different compositions but similar intentions. Na Wei’s ‘Shark being squeezed’, created by emptying tubes of paint onto a canvas, shows the intense pressure sharks are under as their habitat becomes restricted (squeezed) and their numbers dwindle. Alternately, Zou Liang’s piece ‘Swimming’ depicts a peaceful equilibrium between humanity and sharks, as children play upon the back of a Great White. Zou Liang’s shark is composed of various marine organisms, showing how it is an integral part of the ocean’s ecosystem.

The former artwork illustrates sharks’ current predicament, the latter shows an alternative option, a future possibility. Both works were created in an attempt to encourage the public to aid shark preservation efforts. Placing these artworks alongside interactive elements – such as the ‘Messages to the Sharks’ board – encourages people to take action for this increasingly pressing issue.

Beyond this, art has a communicative quality which can cross language barriers. Art is a strategic channel for conveying social messages: it can raise people’s awareness and at the same time address their emotions. It is an effective way of encouraging activism. Art can educate and enlighten minds. Art can bring people together and encourage them to change society. Ultimately, art can analyse an issue from many different angles and prompt different reactions from individuals, while still advocating for a common, global goal.

Moscow Image credit 1: Vladimir Klabukov