Italian street artists lampoon each other in Milan installation

Image copyright Samuel Morant Image caption The contentious Wong Fei painting, part of a new Italian exhibition, sparked diplomatic tensions earlier this year A Chinese street artist and Italian artist have taken a dig…

Italian street artists lampoon each other in Milan installation

Image copyright Samuel Morant Image caption The contentious Wong Fei painting, part of a new Italian exhibition, sparked diplomatic tensions earlier this year

A Chinese street artist and Italian artist have taken a dig at each other during a provocative new exhibition opening in Milan.

Haan – wearing a wreath of flowers behind a veil – and Wong Fei, who said he was “born in Milan”, are both from the state-run China Central Television training institution.

The two are promoting their new show with an elaborate installation.

It shows the artists standing in a line while holding up large versions of their works.

Haan points out a man wearing a striped shirt – apparently referencing the celebrated Chinese artist and writer Ai Weiwei – and says he once posed for Wong Fei while wearing a bright pink uniform and sunglasses.

The pair accuse each other of making fun of their culture, and saying they should take their insult back to China.

Image copyright Samuel Morant Image caption Haan, wearing a wreath of flowers behind a veil, and Wong Fei, who said he was “born in Milan”, are both from the state-run China Central Television training institution

Both men are representatives of China’s art establishment, yet their work has never found favour in Beijing and it is “unofficial” in Italy, says the BBC’s Thomas Curti in Milan.

Their much-hyped installation was also denounced on social media by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s supporters, who questioned the legitimacy of the show.

The show’s opening was punctuated by protests outside the building by fans of the enigmatic artist, particularly after it was announced Haan will be given the honour of saying one of the opening prayers and Wong Fei the saying of another, it was reported.

In March, Haan caused a diplomatic stir when he put out a hand-drawn photograph of his chubby chum Yang Hsin, a “Wong Fei” photograph that was seen as a personal dig on China’s publicity of a massive exhibition by the artist in Las Vegas.

Yang went on to open his own exhibition in the northern Italian city of Genoa.

The amiable staging of the show in Milan, and some political manoeuvring, contrasts sharply with the bitterness of the visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in November when he sought agreement for Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects to reach the country.

Haan is able to do as he pleases in Italy as part of a program in which students undergo six weeks of intense coursework and live and work in the country.

There are already two other groups in Italy to attract a Chinese audience.

Image copyright Luigi Andreoli Image caption Haan, famous for his illustrations of bald, homeless people, is part of a programme in which students undergo six weeks of intense coursework

In February, Italian painter Mauro Pessolini made a series of posters depicting women as “she-wolves”.

The call-and-response series attracted a barrage of media attention and an outpouring of opinion.

One said the images revealed a “basic incompatibility” between Italian culture and modern Chinese culture, as China was depicted as a predatory country with a “conservative nature”.

And a video series by a journalist, Nicolette Visser, showing homeless Chinese prostitutes without backpacks became a sensation when it was broadcast on national TV.

She says the underlying message she was trying to convey was “that men’s power comes from the ability to take what you want, no matter how many other people are affected” by what is happening.

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