Chinese Art Comes West

Amanda McKeon

On Sunday, September 21, Alumni Hall’s Longyear Museum of Anthropology will unveil its new exhibition of Chinese prints titled Nian Hua: Art of the Chinese Farmer.? The prints feature delicate lines, vibrant colors and depict scenes that relate to the lives of Chinese farmers.

While the images in each print are stunning, Senior Curator of the Longyear Museum of Anthropology and Lecturer in Art & Art History, Native American Studies, Africana & Latin American Studies and Sociology & Anthropology Carol Ann Lorenz, explained that they are more than just “pretty pictures. “?Each print serves as a small puzzle: the different attributes of each piece combine to provide a greater meaning and transmit a message.

Lorenz emphasized the depth of the prints.

“[Chinese] folk art tradition…has embedded in its imagery some very deep concepts of Chinese symbolism and philosophy,” Lorenz said.

The prints were made with woodblock and intended to hang festively on doors during the New Year celerbration in China.? Each piece commemorates the promise of the New Year through the incorporation of many symbols related to fortune in Chinese culture, specifically images related to health, long life and prosperity.

Lorenz discussed some motifs common to many of the prints. Lorenz called these “symbols of the natural world” and cited “different kinds of fruit for example…animals [such as] tigers, monkeys, fish.”

One such image found in the prints is that of chubby babies. The plump infants typify longevity and eternal youth. The fish is also an evocative symbol found within many of the prints and embody abundance, while the monkey, another popular motif, represents success and improvement of status.

The various symbols are only one path leading to the greater message of each print.?Every piece contains wishes written on it that also tie into the overall meaning.

The exhibition is especially pertinent to the mission of the Longyear Museum, which seeks to display art from cultures outside of mainstream America and Europe. ?Moreover, the prints fit into Colgate’s art series titled “Year of Chinese Art,” with special exhibitions at the Picker and Clifford Art Galleries during the academic year in an effort to promote an interest in Chinese culture.

Sophomore Tiantong Yu, who helped with the translation of the text in the prints, described the value of the work as its ability to introduce artwork that is fairly unknown to those unfamiliar with Chinese culture.

“These pictures are actually deeply rooted in Chinese culture but are seldom known outside of China,” Yu said.

Overall, Nian Hua: Art of the Chinese Farmer serves as an intriguing introduction to the “Year of Chinese Art.” Aside from challenging viewers to piece together the small puzzles each print presents, the exhibit introduces the Colgate community to the relatively unknown ideas of Chinese art and culture, serving up a visual treat at the same time.