Love, Unmasked – A COVID-19 Art Auction

Over the first weekend in April, a charity art auction and online exhibition closed it’s bidding to support a COVID-19 emergency response by Bridging Hope Charity Foundation and Vermillion Art gallery in Sydney. The sales of the artwork are dedicated to helping UNICEF lessen the global impact of the epidemic, focusing on reducing human transmission and ensuring children get access to essential services.

Love, Unmasked, features works from 22 Australian and Chinese artists. The artists include: Cang Xin, Chen Qingqing, Chen Wenling, Fang Lijun, Gao Ping, Geng Xue, Guan Wei, Jin Sha, Tim Johnson, Li Jin, Li Linlin, Lin Chunyan, Debbie Mackinnon, Paul McDonald, Peng Yong, Jason Phu, Caroline Rothwell, Mike Staniford, Su Xinping, Sun Ziyao, Wang Yunyun and Yang Yongli.

Sun Ziyao, Nothing can stop our love, even masks, 2020, mixed media on Xuan paper, 50 x 50cm

“Very early on of the epidemic, I saw some artists posted their works on social media in response,” gallery director, Dr Yeqin Zuo shares. “I talked to my friend Anke Timm, the Executive Director of BHCF which has been a big supporter for art and mental health — together we invited 23 Chinese and Australian artists and all of them said yes!”

The auction message hones into a lot of the artists’ practice, who examine cross-cultural care efforts. It also reveals the social responsibility of the art industry. For Zuo, this hits home. “My professional background is public health medicine, and I was involved in several major infectious disease outbreaks, although never so big,” she shares. “It can affect anyone but people with less access to resources suffer the most.”

Li Jin, Spring 2020, 2020, ink and colour on Xuan paper, 35 x 137 cm, Vermilion Art (detail)

The auction chose to donate the funds to UNICEF as they were the first international agency went into rural China when Zuo was a young doctor in the early 1990s. “It made a significant impact on women and children’s health,” Zuo continues. “We have worked closely with Yutong Ding from UNICEF Australia on this initiative.”

“I think all artists should share social responsibilities. This is not the first time I support charity events. I started years ago (e.g. I donated artwork amid Wenchuan Earthquake),” contributing artist Guan Wei shares. “In this way, I hope to contribute a little bit to the wellbeing of the whole society.”

Guan Wei, Longevity for Beginners No.5, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 65 x 2.5cm

Tianjin-based artist Li Jin saw his work, Spring 2020, sell for $79,000, and directly relates to his experience in China facing the pandemic. “I try to be positive,” he adds. “In this particular work, the closeness of the family and the flowers all represent hope. I’ve reached my purpose if viewers can feel the warmth from the image.” Li’s brush-and-ink traditional artwork contrast the depicted mundane and everyday realities of life in lockdown, the artwork becomes alive with the colours of spring — nothing can stop the flowers opening. 

Both artists believe art should play a decisive role during the crisis. “The power of artists may be messenger, but art can always encourage, inspire and enlighten people,” Guan adds. “I feel the role is to contribute to the society as a whole.” The connection and compassion between countries is essential for fighting the virus, maximising skills, vaccine efforts, and knowledge.