Whilst visiting the Grand Canal Museum of China in Hangzhou in 2011, I came across a reproduction detail of a larger painting depicting oxen-drawn carts, laden with goods, half underwater, surrounded by men piggybacking women through the flood-waters to higher ground.
This little painting probably documented the flooding of the Yellow River. It consisted of line drawing filled in with colour washes and was probably painted around the 17th century, or even earlier.
It seemed a timeless or even contemporary image to my eye, as we had just witnessed the Brisbane floods in Australia and in Japan the 2010 earthquake followed by a tsunami. Similar images of people lifting and piggybacking other more fragile individuals were photographed in 1953 during the storm surge in the Netherlands – and during Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2012.
It is an intimate image – children, older people, the incapacitated, pets and precious goods, all hanging on for dear life. It is compassionate and humanitarian, and speaks of precariousness, rescue and the common good. I wanted to use it in my work to emphasise the universal and historical human struggle to control water.