Wednesday, May 20, 2015

CHINA at the Met Museum NYC

wonder | wander | women continues a recent post commissioned for Kate's Paperie because [1] it is a fine topic, [2] there is always more to be said and covered, and [3] it is a discussion dear to our palpitating hearts.

Every fine story has many facets to it and its own Rashomon effect and we are retelling this from yet another perspective.

Most of the coverage for this event has been from the Westerner's enthralled enchantment of orientalia and chinoiserie.

Being Asian, born and raise by our Chinese mother and grandmother, relocated and living in the West now - wonder | wander | women weighs in as well on this conversation from our own perspective.

The event we are dissecting 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 through August 16, 2015. 

Declaring our intent up front - we believe nothing trumps Chinese operatic drama in its colorful outstanding opulence and its sheer epic scale - that is our opinion. That now is the context that forms the framework of our discussion 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 personal note to this world stage drama.

Add to this that our grand/mother was an avid cine-file and would drag us to watch double double feature films in all our hometown theaters - leaving us all reeling in audio-visual overload by the end of these extravaganzas.

Watching the chosen film clips on display brought back fond memories of these larger than life images seen through our prepubescent eyes - many of them way over our understanding at the time.

Made even more highly impactful in combination with our unbridled children's fantasy when a whole world of creativity and imagination took flight for us.

We loved the Anna May Wong films the most because this lady epitomizes all the grace and charm of the enigmatic Asian woman - the proverbial iron fist in velvet glove that all of us who were raised in maternal societies know just too intimately.

We laud her herculean efforts and unbelievable success yet as we listen to her own words we question where her mother was in all this - an inquiry that leads us to our own private insights into ourselves.

Another item in the exhibit that brought out our conflicted dragons was the whole hullabaloo over the calligraphy used in a Dior and Chanel creation. Viewed as exotic or foreign the questionable texts were used purely as allusive decoration.

The designers were either unaware or merely ignored the words on their dresses, which in the case of Dior resulted in a dress adorned with characters from an eighth-century letter by Zhang Xu complaining about a painful stomachache.

Luckily this was a minor glitch in misinterpretation. We dread to think what this great house of design would have faced had their chosen calligraphy been more incendiary or had it been a banned text of the People's Republic of Red China. Who would lose face then and what would be the actual cost?

Language constitutes communication and as such it is volatile and can create miscommunication just as well. When politics and culture clashes are dragged into the fray who knows what is left when the chips finally fall and the dust settles. Wars were waged for much less yet countless generations pay the price still. 

Drama and flair figure significantly in this multi-faceted exhibit. It is flashy like a rare and expensive jewel. It is a truly remarkable feat and journey across the various disciplines of fine arts, fashion, film and even food. 

And for many transplanted Asians like ourselves there is much to mine here. 

TIP: If you wish to see more - be sure to click on the images and links to take you there. Enjoy! 

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