Anecdotes, Fairytales, Folklore & Personal Life Experiences

Artists:Ku Sulan (1920-2004), Joydeb & Moyna Chitrakar (India), Peter Bellars (UK/Japan), Huang Kai, Li Huan
Curator: Tony Chang
Translator: Jeff Crosby

The Golden Bough, the classic text by British anthropologist James George Frazer, brought together the customs and legends from a vast array of primitive societies, tracing our collective memories back to their original wellspring in vivid detail. As spiritual blueprints for early civilization, these legends and customs are reflected in the folklore and children’s stories of modern history. The exhibition Anecdotes, Fairytales, Folklore & Personal Life Experiences explores the ways in which this narrative heritage has provided inspiration for the individualized creations of contemporary artists.

Huang Kai’s latest artworks bring characters from classic fairytales and Chinese comics through time and space to gather in the alleyways of his childhood in 1980s: Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, China’s Gourd Brothers and the Monkey King come together to create a magical realist dream. Huang Kai draws from various visual forms of Chinese folk art, such as the cloth animal dolls and paper cuttings of Shaanxi Province. Among them, the image of the young flower-cutting girl from the art of famous folk artist Ku Shulan calls to mind the iconology of feminine grains in European folklore (such as the Rye Mother). As a girl who grew up in the impoverished countryside, her prosperity and happiness are inextricably linked to the harvest, and so this girl is surrounded by images of pomegranates, crabapple blossoms and lotus flowers.

British artist Peter Bellars is steeped in Japanese culture, and takes his inspiration from Japanese storefront signs and advertisements found along the streets of Japan. We can imagine a blond-haired, blue-eyed Westerner wandering through the labyrinth of the Japanese language, fascinated by the twists and turns of its words. Likewise, similar symbols emerge in the alleyways of Huang Kai’s woodcuts, with small alterations to commonly seen signs bringing a sense of comic absurdity to everyday street life.

Inspired by the traditional Patua art, India artists Joydeb & Moyna Chitrakar created an innovative scroll-book titled Tsunami, which transforms the dramatic news into a moving and artfully rendered fable. Dirge-like in tone and translated from the original Bengali song, the Tsunami ballad evokes the persistence of life in death. Tsunami recalls a terrifying event in our common history. A ballad of loss and of hope, prophecy and wisdom, Tsunami seeks to heal hurt with song and art.The extraordinary imagination of the Patua artists introduces an old fashioned empathy into modern reportage—and in the process, creates a moving tale that transforms the ephemera of newsrooms into art with a universal resonance.

Li Huan has used the technique of wood engraving to create artworks with the astonishingly refined visual effects of metal engraving, using rich gradients of gray shading to create a sandy texture intricately depicting the lace dresses and dolls of her childhood memories. This clothing is worn by cute, plump little bodies, but the faces of these children are obscured as if to protect their identities. Perhaps the little girls have grown up and married, and these forgotten dresses, stuffed animals and wooden horses, once so loved by their owners, dream of the embrace of a warm body, constantly turning back to the memories of play from so long ago. These images are permeated by a sad, mysterious atmosphere of darkness.

In India’s Chennai, in the cave dwellings of the Chinese countryside and in the artist studios on the outskirts of Beijing, the remnants of folklore and fragments of fairytales weave together surrealistically with the memories of real life, forming the warp and weft of the artist’s visual experience. In this day and age where the tellers of fairytales and legends have lost their voices, we emerge from our revelry to pick up the fallen leaves of the Golden Bough, following them back to a pure time where we can bathe in the innocence of humanity.