“Random people, random place, random time,” you might think to yourself. The Sinophiles quickly reminisce about their initial meeting during an event for JD.com at NYFW in seasons past before diving into the real reason for their rendez-vous. Or rather, in keeping with the Sino-Italiano theme, apputamento!
Cimarelli’s enterprising effort took place way way back in 1986, when China had only just opened its doors to foreigners after some three decades of seclusion, hence his expedition was quite unprecedented. Foreigners at the time usually needed special permission to even come close to entering the country and usually for only one or two weeks at a time. With a letter from the president of his Accademia addressed to the Chinese embassy, Cimarelli was miraculously granted permission and spent four months in China, and over a year in Asia, using that time to collect information for his thesis.
Side note: This was unheard of. Nowadays, China is handing out 10 year visas to U.S. (not European) citizens like it’s basically candy, but our artist back in the 1980s day was an expat exception to the rule.
This leads me to Cimarelli’s biggest “East meets West” artistic accomplishment to date which took place in 2010, when he completed a larger than life sculpture of Matteo Ricci (also known as 利玛窦), one of the most famous foreigners known in Chinese history. He was an Italian Jesuit from the 1500s, who remained in China for about 28 years and eventually had an incredible impact on the country. He spoke fluent Chinese, had a profound understanding of Chinese culture and utilized his knowledge of Confucian values, which dictated most of Chinese life and culture, to explain and teach Christianity across the country (sneaky sneaky, but also revolutionary).
In commemoration and celebration of his life 400 years onwards, Cimarelli was honored when the Italian government asked him to create a Ricci sculpture for the Shanghai World Expo. It was a six month project and the sculpture stands at 7 ft tall. Two versions exist, one which stands in Macerata, Italy, where the Jesuit was born and the other stands at the entrance of the Italian consulate in Shanghai. Not only is the statue beautifully done, but to top it off, it is covered from head to toe in Chinese calligraphy, a true representation of Chinese culture and art — and truly one of my personal favorite aspects of Chinese culture. In truth, the calligraphy is Cimarelli’s Chinese name written repetitively, but what better way to connect the artist to the artwork.
Wrapping things up, allow me to give you a brief understanding for how important Ricci was in China. At the Millenium Art Museum in Beijing, the great hall is lined with all of the most famous and important people throughout China’s history. Only two foreigners have managed to make their way in, namely Ricci and Venetian explorer/ merchant Marco Polo. That has to stand for something right?
When asked if there is any particular sculpture artist in China that he admires in particular, the answer was, “well, not really, or at least not yet.” Up until this point, artistic inspiration has come from the Russians and Western countries. So Chinese sculpture wasn’t very unique. However, there a shift is occurring and, as Cimarelli remarks, “it is one worthy of our attention”. More to come, di sicuro!
Cimarelli currently teaches Sculpture at the New York Academy, and hopes to remain in New York for a while.
Written by Jessica Laiter of Chinese Graffiti for Temper Magazine
Edited by Elsbeth van Paridon
Images: Courtesy of Dionisio Cimarelli, 2018. All rights reserved
Copyright@Temper Magazine, 20018. All rights reserved
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