Sunday, May 24, 2015
CHINA fantasies & cliches
On exhibit now through to August 16 is China: Through the Looking Glass, a collaboration between the Costume Institute and the Asian Art Department - a centennial celebration currently on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This is the third time I am writing on the topic and countless times it has already been covered by the press. It is an event that captures all our imaginations on many levels - conscious and subliminal, literal and allegorical.
As with every fine story it has many facets to it with all its attendant Rashomon effect - hence I impose yet another retelling of mine from yet another perspective.
Its curator Andrew Bolton and his Costume Institute team collaborated with the Department of Asian Art for this hybrid exhibit, showcasing elaborate Chinese collections juxtaposed in Western inspired oriental fantasy.
Drama and flair figure significantly in this multi-faceted exhibit. It blazes like an ostentatious diva and blinds like an expensive jewel. It is a truly remarkable journey across the various disciplines of fine arts, fashion, film and even food.
In any work of such vastness and intricacy it is challenging enough to keep factual and true. When blending culture and art through the grand expanse of distance and divide this gets even trickier.
Kudos to the organizers and staff who soared successfully in its interplay - forsaking truth and manipulating fact for flights of fancy. For many transplanted Asians like me there is much to mine here.
Growing up in the Philippines under the bullying shadow of China from which our maternal side of the family fled during the Mao Revolution only adds a more personal note to this world stage drama.
Many Fukien families like my mother’s were set to sea by the boatload landing in foreign shores like flotsam. Traditions were quickly lost with all the family treasures and many clan members. In their eagerness to survive and quickly assimilate into a new homeland and often confusing terrain even more got buried.
We grew up conflicted when it comes to all things Chinese - often caught in a love hate push and pull tangle.
We take pride in our roots and flaunt what little memories were passed down to us - accurate or otherwise. Yet as many questions remained unclear, unasked or unanswered, we are unmoored and set adrift.
We are defensive and even prickly or sensitive when others speak in amusement, awe or adulation about China. Lacking concrete evidence - of past dynasties, Mao or today’s monolithic power - we make it up as our cells and genealogy see fit.
Meandering through the collections in the exhibit was a walk down memory lane - literally and figuratively.