Sunday, September 1, 2013

Light Before Dawn and Peking Garden

On Thursday, we went to an exhibit at the Asia Society, "Light Before Dawn," which showcased the art created in China during the years of 1975 to 1985.  The exhibit and our docent kept referring to this art as "unofficial," by which they meant that this kind of artistic creation was not permitted by the Communist government, not known or recognized by the society at large, and not viewed by the general public.  At a time when the government was keen to burn and destroy anything that did not fall within party lines (rhetoric and propaganda), these artists were exploring ways to express their fear, frustration and disappointment in their country's political system.

The exhibit covered three groups, "Wuming," "Caocao" and "Xinxin", meaning "No Name," "Grass" and "Stars" respectively.  My favorite paintings were in the Caocao group, because these artists used traditional Chinese painting styles such as black ink and scrolls, yet created pieces that were absolutely, irrevocably modern and undeniably different.  One of the scrolls, imprinted so heavily with black ink and red spots that it seemed to practically seethe and roil with the artist's anger, was my favorite.

While the group Wuming arguably most lacked artistic skill however, their history affected me the most.  Created during the tail end of the Cultural Revolution, these Wuming artists, many of whom were women, held secret meetings in their communes and factories in order to create art.  They painted with pilfered brushes and scant supplies on cardboard, pasteboard, or any material they could find.  The paintings from this era were noticeably smaller than from the other two eras because they had to be easily hidden from officials and neighbors.   Their humble little pasteboard paintings are the best testament to the kind of risks that human beings take to create art.

It was a thought-provoking exhibit and it has inspired me to look up some non-fiction accounts of China's modern history.

After strolling the grounds of the Asia Society, which I learned was just recently built on the site of the explosives magazine (for ammunition storage) created by the British government during the colonial period, we went to dinner at Peking Garden in Pacific Place.

It was a terribly healthy dinner (ha ha) consisting of Shanghai soup dumplings (couldn't resist taking one before the picture was taken):

and an entire Peking duck with accompanying cucumber slices, spring onions and plum sauce:

Carving the duck at the carving station:

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