Cricket (cages) in the Orientation Gallery

October 30, 2012

A big part of our renovation plans throughout the permanent galleries is a thematic presentation to facilitate object rotation (as in our new Gallery of Korean Art)– that way, we are able to put more of our permanent collection for you to enjoy, and there’s always something new to see. Our curatorial department has just rotated the objects in our Orientation Gallery’s Materials and Techniques section, replacing the lacquer objects with those made of bamboo and adding a new ivory object. Among these objects are perennial favorites: a cricket cage, fighting arena, and ticklers!

Cricket cage with ivory lid

Crickets have been kept as pets in China for over a thousand years. Admired for their song, crickets are traditionally caught in August and September in the countryside and are kept in bamboo cages, ceramic jars or molded gourds like this one at left. Most crickets are kept either for fighting or for their chirping sound. Cricket fighting became a popular pastime during the 12th century, and certain theories date the activity even earlier to the 8th century. Cricket fighting attracted people at all levels of society, and continues today despite having been suppressed as a symbol of the past during the Mao years. In a traditional fight, crickets are placed in a round pot or other container (like the bamboo arena at top right) and are prodded with ticklers (at top left) to goad them. A cricket is considered to have won when it spreads its wings or its opponent retreats. Today’s fights aren’t usually to the death, but many years ago it would not be uncommon for one cricket to behead the other.

As mentioned earlier, the cricket arena and tickler are on display along with other bamboo objects in the Orientation Gallery’s Materials and Techniques section. Bamboo is a flexible yet strong material known for quick growth, and because of these properties is widely used across Asia. In addition to everyday use, bamboo has symbolic cultural significance. It is one of the “Three Friends of Winter” with the pine and plum and one of the “Four Gentlemen” with the plum, orchid and chrysanthemum, and as a member of these groups is often referenced in East Asian art and literature. Because the material adjacent to bamboo is currently ivory, we also had the opportunity to put the carved gourd cricket cage on display. Here, the ivory lid of the cricket gourd has been carefully carved and vented not only to allow airflow through a beautiful design, but also to enhance the cricket’s sound.

Check out these fantastic pieces in person! While you’re here this week, don’t miss visiting artist Malik Abdul Rehman demonstrating naqashi and our new exhibition Marking Transitions: Ceremonial Art in Indonesia opening Friday. As always, check our website for more details. ~CM


Pakistani Artist Presents Naqashi October 31-November 4

October 19, 2012

Following the success of several recent visiting artist programs here at Pacific Asia Museum (the sand mandala by Tibetan monks, the Japanese shibori workshop and the Korean najeon workshop, among others), we’re excited to host Pakistani artist Malik Abdul Rehman October 31 through November 4 thanks to our wonderful Pakistan Arts Council. He’ll demonstrate the traditional art of naqashi, which involves creating  highly geometric designs to decorate walls, ceilings, woodwork and ornamental camel skin items.

Naqashi is a style that has been practiced in South Asia for about 900 years. Using natural dyes, artists like Rehman painstakingly paint intricate and ornate patterns on a variety of surfaces, often with a floral motif. Many notable examples of naqashi are found on the walls and ceilings of important buildings like mosques and palaces– Rehman’s family even worked in the Taj Mahal.

You won’t want to miss watching this artist in action, and maybe even trying naqashi yourself! Rehman will also have a limited number of works for sale– just in time for the holidays. Here’s the week’s schedule:

Wednesday, October 31 through Friday, November 2
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Ongoing demonstration with additional works on view

Saturday, November 3
10 a.m.-12 p.m. Ongoing demonstration with additional works on view
2-5 p.m. Naqashi Workshop: Designed for adults, advance registration required at 626-449-2742 x 31.

Sunday, November 4
10 a.m.-12 p.m. Ongoing demonstration with additional works on view
2-5 p.m. Tea and Naqashi Lecture hosted by the Pakistan Arts Council


Shamanism in the new Gallery of Korean Art

October 11, 2012

Our new Gallery of Korean Art opened last week, and our visitors are already enjoying learning about how Korea’s belief systems have influenced art for thousands of years. This new space is arranged into four sections, each looking at a different tradition: shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and contemporary works influenced by these traditions.

Shamanism, moosok or mookyo [무속/무교] in Korean, is the oldest and only indigenous belief system in the Korean peninsula. Numerous deities and spirits are worshipped in this tradition, but there is no written body of scripture to codify this ancient religion. According to this tradition, the world is inhabited by spirits, and shamans (or moodang) are essential as mediators between spirits and humans. They are usually women and perform the role of guiding people in rites (or gut, pronounced ‘goot’) in accordance with practices transmitted through oral tradition. Most shamanistic rituals are performed to appease various deities or the spirits of the dead to avoid illness or sudden deaths of family members, so rituals for the deceased have been given a great importance. Various tomb goods such as pottery, jewelry and clothing were buried with the deceased, depending on their status.

In Korean shamanism it is understood that life is cyclical—a continuous sequence of past, present and future—which is echoed in later Buddhist teachings as well. When Confucianism was declared the state religion of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910 CE), shamanism was suppressed and has been viewed as an obstacle to the nation’s modernization until very recently. However, even those who regard shamanism as outmoded acknowledge that shamanistic rituals are a valuable repository of Korean folk art, carrying forward centuries of traditional costumes, dance, music and chanting, and today many elements of shamanism are designated Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Seoul (a government designation intended to safeguard the cultural heritage of Korea). One of the most prominent of the rituals preserved today is masked drama. This mask of a “depraved monk” (left) was worn during the Hahoe Special Ritual Drama to the Gods to appease Seonangsin, or a village god or goddess. The drama features ten characters, all of whom representing different social classes, from the ruling class to clergy, farmers and slaves. This mask of the depraved monk portrays his unruly and wayward behavior, instead of the solemnity and benevolence that a Buddhist monk should possess. The wide-open grinning mouth suggests his loose morals, and the crescent-shaped eyes reveal his womanizing behavior. This shows the sense of humor, parody and social satire that is often a part of Korean masked dramas, which combine shamanistic rituals and village entertainment. Unlike most other Korean dance dramas that involved ritual burning of the masks after performances, the masks for this drama have been preserved. You can see an example of the dance dramas in a video playing underneath this mask in the gallery.

Want to learn more? Tomorrow’s Art and Coffee will delve deeper into Korea’s shamanism tradition. You can also visit us Friday night and all day Saturday as part of Pasadena’s Art Weekend!~CM