Zhou Xiaoping is a Melbourne-based artist who learnt the technique of traditional brush painting under the tutelage of a great master while growing up in the Anhui province of China. He arrived in Australia in 1988 and staged an exhibition in Melbourne. A month later he travelled to Alice Springs where he met Aboriginal people for the first time.

In early 1990, he travelled to the Kimberley in Western Australia, and it was in Broome that he met and became friends with the Aboriginal artist, Jimmy Pike, who later took Xiaoping to his Country in the Fitzroy Crossing region.

The artists began collaborating together, and by 1996 had sufficient works to hold a joint exhibition in China, in Xiaoping’s hometown. It was a time when China knew little about Australian Aboriginal arts and culture, and Jimmy Pike was the first Australian Aboriginal artist to have exhibited there. But by 1999, when they held their second exhibition at the National Gallery of China in Beijing, interest had built, paving the way for other Aboriginal artists and groups.

Xiaoping’s next collaboration was with the late Johnny Bulunbulun (who he had known since 1989), and made famous as the subject of an award-winning documentary called, Ochre and Ink (2012), which followed the artists over several years as they worked toward what was to become the Trepang exhibition.

And it’s this documentary (which airs from time to time on the ABC) that shows us just how the artists worked together: Using a technique which has produced works of amazingly beautiful textures and colours, the Aboriginal artist applied ochres alongside Xiaoping’s Chinese inks on rice paper, laid out on the floor and later fixed to canvas.

The Trepang, China & the story of Macassan – Aboriginal Trade exhibition was first shown at the Capital Museum in China, and friend and supporter of Xiaoping’s, Marcia Langton AM, was there to open it.

“Marcia Langton is a great person and we are great friends, I am honoured to work with her,” says Xiaoping, reflecting on the support she has given him and also his collaborations, which some art centre managers have openly opposed.

“People have different opinions, but sometimes people can over-care and make decisions for others. Johnny, Jimmy and I were friends, and as artists we respected and learnt from each other – we weren’t playing politics, we just wanted to work together – so why do some people want to put pressure on Johnny to do what they want him to do?”

Trepang nevertheless enjoyed success, and later travelled to the Melbourne Museum in Australia, as well as the Australian Embassy in Paris, where Zhou was invited to repeat the exhibition last year (2014).

And now another collaboration is about to take place – in the form of large-scale murals – within the Mutitjulu community, who live in the shadow of Uluru in Central Australia.

Called the Muti Mural Project, Xiaoping has been invited to work alongside local artists and community members to beautify four buildings, the wall of the primary school (one side will feature Xiaoping’s work, the local children will create a mural work on the other), and a large community building and a swimming pool wall on which Xiaoping will collaborate with local artists. The roof of the Adult Education Centre will also be covered in murals, first painted onto panels.

The aim is to showcase the talents of Mutitjulu community and to create a bridge between cultures ‹nd to be a platform for other creative collaborations. Once complete there are plans to open parts of the community to small groups of tourists (a permit is required at present).

Work on the Muti Mural Project will span a year and is being approached in stages – starting from next week.

It’s something Xiaoping is enthusiastic about, “It’s a great opportunity for me, I feel honoured to have been invited,” he says.

Present next week too will be the producers of Ochre and Ink who have expressed an interest in filming this project, and are currently awaiting funding to begin.

If you are interested and would like to be involved, the Muti Mural Project is seeking Sponsors, so get in touch with Brian James on 0410 414 770 (Brian is a coordinator of the project, along with Diamond Rozakeas and Anangu Jobs).

To contact Zhou Xiaoping or to see more of his works please visit his website.