In this self-portrait, Jiawei Shen has borrowed the conception of reincarnation from the Buddhist faith to express some of his feelings about history and his life. The work is comprised of seven self portraits and images of himself in reincarnated personas.
The artist also included a projected image of himself as a kangaroo in the year 2096. Shen chose the kangaroo because, he was born in the Year of the Rat, and as he says, ‘the kangaroo is a rat with a pouch’. Shen migrated to Australia in 1989 and in this painting the artist seems to be dealing with both his Chinese past and Australian present and future.
Throughout this self-portrait, Jiawei Shen is concerned with Chinese history and its tendency to repeat itself. However, as he says, ‘One painting can have many different meanings and I encourage people to make their own assumptions about the painting’.
Shen is a largely self-taught artist, learning his art during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s. He did postgraduate studies at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, becoming widely recognised in his homeland as a history painter, and won the Chinese National Art Prize five times during the 1980s. Shen moved to Sydney in 1989, and has been an Archibald Prize finalist every year since 1993. This year, he was highly commended for this self-portrait.