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!
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