A Pathway to the Past: Zhang Huan Memory Doors

The threshold between the past and the present can be seen in Chinese artist Zhang Huan’s Memory Doors Series featured this summer in the Frederik Meijer Gardens exhibition, “Looking East, Facing West: The World of Zhang Huan.”


Panorama of exhibition galleries courtesy of Chuck Heiney.

The Memory Door Series includes “Buddha” and “Figure of Country Buddha,” two unique pieces made of silkscreen collages embedded into carved wooden doors. These discarded doors were originally from farms in the rural areas of the Shanxi Province and with the help of woodcarvers from Dongyang, Huan based the relief carvings on images found in his very own collection of photographs and magazines. Huan hoped that by employing Chinese craftsmen instead of artists to help him complete the carvings, he would foster the idea of keeping traditional Chinese craftsmanship alive, and at the same time, explore new creative outlets and practices of their expert skills.


“Buddah” by Zhang Haun. Photo found on Google Images.

The enlarged photographs used by Huan are dated anywhere between 1950 and 1980. He first created then superimposed the photo collages, marrying the photographs with the carved landscapes on the doors. He uses the doors as a way to tell stories about the ever-changing conditions in China, which allows viewers to be transcended to a different time and place in Chinese history and heritage.


“Figure of Country Buddha” by Zhang Huan. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Although the juxtaposition of carvings and photographs may be what draws the audience into the mind of Huan, the doors themselves are also full of historical symbolism. These traditional wooden doors were salvaged by Huan himself from rural areas across China after being discarded in favor of new, Western-style doors. To Huan, the metal doors were the next step in the modernization of Chinese culture, and he saw the tattered, beat-up antique doors as inspiration, which became a foundation for the Memory Door Series.

Take a walk back in time by exploring Zhang Huan’s Memory Door Series at Meijer Gardens. “Looking East, Facing West: The World of Zhang Huan” continues through August 2

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