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Sculptor's labor of love depicts love for labor

By ZHENG CAIXIONG in Guangzhou (China Daily) Update:2022-09-05

Guangzhou artist's tribute to builders grabs attention

Huang Jianyi said he never expected that the sculpture he created several months ago would get as much attention from the public.

Social media platforms have been promoting his work on short videos, which have collectively been viewed more than 10 million times, after it was shown in the graduation exhibition of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in Guangdong's provincial capital in late June.

A number of domestic media organizations have reported on Huang's life and his artwork, a giant construction worker made of more than 700 kilograms of steel bars and iron plates.

The 25-year-old academy graduate has become an internet celebrity and a well-known figure on his campus.

"Becoming an internet celebrity is not what I wanted when I created the sculpture, but I am still glad my work is recognized by the public," he said.

"Now, what I want to do is to find a job to repay my parents, so that they no longer have to work so hard."

Huang thinks it is the sincere emotion expressed in his work that has resonated with people.

He said he made the sculpture in honor of his father and all Chinese construction workers who have contributed to the country's urban development.

He named his 194 centimeter-by-113cm-by-230cm sculpture The Soul of Construction Workers.

"It's also a gift to my family for supporting me during the past five years of college," he said.

Huang said he began work on the sculpture six months ago, and it took him three months to complete.


The Soul of Construction Workers by Huang Jianyi. CHINA DAILY

He cut and welded the steel bars and iron plates himself to form the image of a construction worker. He would start in the morning and end in the evening, only taking meal breaks.

When he discovered that the bottom of his sculpture was uneven, he dismantled it and used new renderings to start again.

"Sometimes, I even stayed up from midnight to 5 or 6 am, and when the sun rose, I would sleep in my chair for a few hours," Huang said. "I think all the hard work was worth it, especially now that the sculpture is being recognized by the public."

To build the piece, he bought 750 kg of steel bars and iron plates from online platforms and nearby recycling centers for about 4 yuan (62 cents) per kg.

He ultimately used more than 700 kg in the sculpture.

Born into a poor family in Leizhou city, under the administration of Zhanjiang city in western Guangdong, Huang said he deeply understood how hard life was for builders.

"As construction workers, my parents frequently traveled for work, sometimes as far as Hainan province when I was a child, and they used to return home once every few months," he said.

"Although I have never been to any of the construction sites my parents worked at, I know they worked very hard."

Huang said he once got a taste of what the work was like.

"When I was a junior, I spent a day helping my uncle build his house in the village. I felt exhausted after mixing cement, moving and laying bricks," he said.

And after he arrived in Guangzhou to go to university, he discovered that many builders have to work in the scorching sun or in the pouring rain.

Huang became a household name in his hometown when his brother posted a photo of his sculpture on his family WeChat group and his father later forwarded it to his WeChat Moments.


Huang creates the work at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in Guangdong province. CHINA DAILY

"My father, who is the pillar of my family, is not very good at expressing his feelings, but I know he was very happy when he saw my sculpture," Huang said.

He said he hoped to be able to work in Guangzhou in the months to come, and he is now in the process of interviewing with several companies.

"Although I have studied sculpture for five years, I may not have to work in sculpture after graduation," he said.

Nevertheless, Huang said he would maintain his passion for art.

"I will continue to find time to create art on weekends, and I hope to be able to create a series of sculptures themed on construction workers in the future," he added.

After the exhibition, the academy added his sculpture to its collection.

Chen Hongjian, deputy dean of GAFA's Department of Sculpture, said Huang is a simple and plain student, but he has a strong handson ability.

"Huang's sculpture is very sincere, emotional and honest, so it resonates with everyone," Chen said.