Dunhuang: Untold Tales, Untold Riches @Hong Kong Heritage Museum

Exhibition period:  26/11/2014 to 16/3/2015

Dunhuang is an oasis town on the edge of the Gobi Desert in western China along the Great Silk Road.  It was a famous center of Buddhist worship in the middle-ages, with pilgrims travelling from faraway to visit its cave shrines, comprising of hundreds of lavishly decorated caverns carved into a cliff on the city’s outskirts.

It was rediscovered by accident by a monk in the late last century.

The Dunhuang Library is hailed as one of the great archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century, on par with Tutankhamun’s tomb and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Here are some pictures of a fantastic exhibition put together by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and no doubt Dunhuang is in my bucket list!

However, I better hurry because it ecosystem is very fragile.  Buildup of humidity and carbon dioxide—from visitors’ breath—are  flaking and discoloring the delicate pigment-on-plaster wall paintings, making it very vulnerable to mass tourism.  With Dunhuang entering the digital age, who knows, it might be closed to mass tourism in the future and the only way I get to see it will be via digital media!

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The 15.6 meter recumbent Buddha, serene in death with anguished disciples and mourners, is an iconic image of Mogaoku. 


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Artefacts from Silk Road times as well as replicas from the Mogao Caves.

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Scrolls and Manuscripts:  The Diamond Sutra, a copy of a Chinese translation of one of the Buddha’s sermons, generally recognized as the oldest known example of a dated printed book.

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Education Booklet

Some additional resources:

A really good article from The New Yorker here

The International Dunhuang Project: The Silk Road Online is a massive international collaboration to make information and images of all manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts from Dunhuang and archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road freely available on the Internet and to encourage their use through educational and research programmes.

Friends of Dunhuang

‘Take Another View On Art’ @ Landmark, Hong Kong

Date:  March 2015

In conjunction with Art Basel Hong Kong, the atrium in Landmark is transformed into an extraordinary art space where an enormous dome is suspended in mid-air.  The exhibition called ‘Take Another View on Art’ brings exceptional museum-quality art to the city, featuring original artworks by Claude Monet, Marc Chagall, Zao Wou-ki and Zeng Fanzhi amongst others, and valued collectively at over a whooping HK$140 million!

These masterpieces are hung under an iridescent aerial installation created by architect William Lim.  The audience is invited to view 9 aerially installed masterpieces under the dome through telescopes.

For those inclined, featured art works are:

- Alex Prager, 3:14pm, Pacific Ocean (2012) from Lehmann Maupin
- Claude Monet, Entrée de Giverny en hiver, soleil couchant (1885) from Christie’s
- Laurent Grasso, Eclipse (2012) from Edouard Malingue Gallery
- Marc Chagall, Les fleurs devant la fenêtre à Paris (1976) from Opera Gallery
- Simon Birch, The Cutter (2014) from Ben Brown Fine Arts
- Stella Zhang, 0-Viewpoint-3-11 (2011) from Galerie du Monde
- Xu Longsen, Celestial Shore (2011) from Hanart TZ Gallery
- Zao Wou-ki, 07.06.63 (1963) from de Sarthe Gallery
- Zeng Fanzhi, Untitled (2002)

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The dome

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Tired visitors sitting outside the dome… perhaps instagraming or FB-ing😜

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Telescopes

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Aerial display of the artworks

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Explosion of colours and lights

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A different perspective at looking at a masterpiece

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…Closing time…

My Pictorial Arvo @Art Basel Hong Kong 2014

Date of Visit:  May 14 2014

This is the 2nd Hong Kong edition of Art Basel, the world’s premier show of Modern and Contemporary Art.  I was lucky that I got a free ticket.

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Otherwise, I would have to fork out HK$300 for a day pass like what my friend did…

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Is this Art??  I can do this too!  In fact, there were several mono-coloured canvasses in the exhibition.  Perhaps done by big names.  And we all know, any doodles by big names conjures a hefty price tag (belt our your number Jessie J!)

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This is kooky! So cool and psychedelic!  Reminds me of Austin Powers! Yeah, Baby!

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The bizarre.  A life-sized mannequin of a hairy young girl cradling deformed baby??

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Totally outrageous!  A dog encased inside glass bubbles??  SPCA where art thou?!

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Waste not, want not... the next time you stop by for a Chinese, remember to bring home the scallop shells.

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The comical – the singing Banana Trio!  Inspiration from Casper The Friendly Ghost?

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A wake-up call, don’t eat too much

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But don’t starve yourself to the bones either!

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A bit of reality call – the post 80s generation?  Demonstrations!  Protests!

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A bit of logic!  My favourite 3 Ms: Chocolates, Junk and Post-It Notes!

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Recyclable art…

Buddha sitting on a pile of used clothing.

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Shredded papers as sculptural art?

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What about a mangled smashed-up car?

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Something contemporarily religious…

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Art Basel is basically an art expo with over 245 leading galleries from 39 countries.  Heck!  I even met a sister of a friend who runs a gallery in Kuala Lumpur!!

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I spent  over 2 hours at the expo…and was dead tired…

Check out this man face-planted on the floor! Bet he WAS really tired! Zzzz…

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Any qualms?  Talk to me, better still, email me!

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Peruvian Immersion For A Day @ National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Date of Visit: March 29 2014

If your much anticipated hiking trip to Peru is cancelled what would you do?  Well, Bestie and I made a road trip to Canberra to gawk at the exotic Inca treasures of the ancient Peruvian civilisation at the National Gallery of Art in Canberra – aptly called ‘Gold and The Incas: Lost World of Peru” (here).

The exhibition is a key component of Canberra’s centenary celebrations in 2013 and also significant in that it marks the 50th anniversary of Australian-Peruvian diplomatic relations, and is organised in co-operation with the Peruvian Ministry of Culture.  As such, the works of art are lent by the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú and its fraternal collections, the Fundacion Museo Amano, the Museo Larco and the Museo Oro del Perú – museums that were on our trip’s agenda –  as well as the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

Would it  surprise you that the Inca Empire lasted only 100 years?  This is a very short time for such a vast and famous enterprise!

In a nutshell:

“The Incas conquered all of Peru and much of Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador.  The state governed from the capital city of Cuzco by a system of duties, taxes and rewards.  20,000km of roads enabled efficient and speedy communication.

The Emperor was The Son of The Sun God and the pinnacle of an extremely hierarchical society.  The Inca state region demanded scarifices, human and animal – even textiles were burnt as offerings to the Gods.  Architecture, e.g. the famous World Heritage Site Machu Picchu, was the glory of the Inca culture (and still is!).  Temples, palaces, terraces and fortifications of huge stone blocks were fitted together, mostly without masonry.

Sadly, our knowledge of Inca society is filtered through the world view of Spanish chroniclers. The Inca state of at least 12 million people fell very rapidly, due to superior European military technology, civil war and new diseases, especially smallpox.  Perhaps 90% of the native population, more than 10 million people, was killed or died of disease and famine after the conquest.

Almost every artefact that survives – what we see at the exhibition today – was buried with their owners.  As the cult of the dead infers, both noble and common people were interred in different ways according to tiers of importance – from ruling lords, priests, military leaders and retainers – as exemplified by their respective accoutrements and placements in their graves.

A rather kooky rite is that adorned mummified Inca elites form part of annual postmortem ceremonies where their corpses were paraded around the city of Cuzco.”

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Poster Child of the Exhibition: Gold Relic of the Sun God

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Children’s’ Discovery Area where photography is permitted

In summary, this is a well-curated exhibition with over 200 objects showcasing  exemplary artefact from each period of the Peruvian civilisation  from gold regalia, intricate jewellery and striking vessels to elaborate embroidered and woven cloths.  So, don’t miss out!

*****

It is only appropriate to round up our excursion by having a Peruvian themed lunch at the Sculptural Garden Restaurant.

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‘Cones’ (Bert Flugelman, 1976/82) in polished stainless steel

Finding it needed a bit of detective work as it is located outside the gallery, tucked away to the side of the garden and in a tent by the Marsh Pond.

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Sculptural Garden Restaurant

In the Marsh Pond (part of the sculpture garden) is a powerful work by Dadang Christanto, an Indonesian artist based in Darwin.  The pond is filled with bronze heads with extra eeriness supported by the mist-maker.  His works speaks of victims of oppression and social injustice.  If I remember correctly, this piece, “Heads from the north’,  is about the genocide in East Timor.

(PS:  Would I want to hold a reception in the restaurant by a pond filled with heads?  Probably not!😰)

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‘Heads from the north’, Dadang Christanto (Photo credit: http://www.pbase.com)

For this special occasion in conjunction with the exhibition, the interior of the restaurant is styled by designer Megan Morton to play up combinations of colour, good times and of course, corn – to accentuate the joy of food and family that the Peruvian culture delights in!

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Interior of Restaurant

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Maize ‘Chandelier’

Only Set Lunch is served in the restaurant.

What we got for our 2-course Set Lunch at $35 per person

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Wholewheat Damper

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Presented on a wooden paddle pan as is very fashionable now,  we have Ceviche of Salmon with Lime, Jumbo White Corn and Coriander.

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Ceviche of Salmon with Lime, Jumbo White Corn and Coriander (GF)

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Jumbo White Corn

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Quinoa: Baked quinoa toped with avocado wasabi cream and a rocket leaf. This is bourgeois peasant food!

MAIN COURSE

Sometimes, it is best not to heed recommendation of a fellow diner who you don’t know…

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Twice-cooked Beef Short Rib with Chimichurri and Huancaina Potatoes.

This is a plate of disappointment of sorts:  The beef was dry – yet full of fat!  The most obvious explanation is that it is not a good cut of meat which has been pre-(over)cooked and reheated thus rendering it very beef-jerky-like in texture.  The exotic sounding ‘huancaina’ is basically a spicy cream which is otherwise ‘meh’.

Check out my leftover plate of fat!

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FAT!! Fat-Die-Me! 😱 😱 😱

Not a very satisfying lunch, so a Diet Coke at the Gallery Cafe is in order…

‘P.Ramlee: Celebrating A Legend’ Musical @ BCCK, Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Show: September 10 2013

P Ramlee is a Malaysian icon. Ever the ladies man, he was also a hero for the macho set with his moustache, dimpled boyish grin and twinkling eyes. He was a megastar akin to George Clooney in his days. From his beginning as a musician in a kampung (village) in Penang, his talents exceeded from composing 360 songs to script writing and directing/ producing 66 movies.

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P Ramlee Banner at BCCK

(My Update: 10 days in the town of Boo, seemed an eternity. Whilst deciphering non-sensical letters letters issued by a local Datuk Pemanca and his daughter whose name totally contradicts her namesake – angry, venomous and NOT happy- had kept me amused, I still need a breather!)

As if the heaven had heard my prayers, I received a text from my friend Sandy, that she had secured a ticket for me to see a P.Ramlee musical in Kuching. This is the first time a professional troupe of artistes had flown in to stage a musical in the outback state of Borneo and I was truly excited to see my first Malay musical.

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Ticket

The concert was scheduled for a 7:30pm start but as usual in the serfdom of Sarawak, there is always a delay to accommodate some self-important VIPs who insist on making an entrance by arriving late. Even though this evening’s performance was sponsored by the State Government of Sarawak to commemorate 50 years of entering the Federation of Malaya together with the state of Sabah to form Malaysia or under the political banner, ‘Sarawak’s 50th Year of Progress in Malaysia‘ – a free event should still start on time, especially with the time costs of over a 1000 eager audiences -young and old – seated and waiting for the show to start! (Sir Elton John never tolerate give sh*t like this! Nor Rolling Stones for that matter! 7:30pm means 7:30pm!)

In the short 2-hour musical, the show chronicles a summary of P.Ramlee’s life romances and career highlights through the use of lightings, props and video clips amid the singing and dancing.

The story begins with P.Ramlee’s early days in Penang wooing a lass called ‘Azizah‘ by penning a song after her. This song became a runaway success for him, giving him the opportunity to work in Singapore to pursue his dreams. In Singapore, he met his first wife, Junaidah. Unfortunately, Junaidah could not handle her husband’s rising fame and decided to leave him. A broken hearted P.Ramlee then met with his second wife, Nurizan who had left the Sultan of Perak for him. During their marriage, he directed his first movie ‘Penarik Beca’ (Tricycle Driver) – a story about forbidden love due to the different family backgrounds. The movie was an instant hit. Naturally, P.Ramlee got engrossed in his work, thus putting a strain on his relationship with his wife. They later divorced. P.Ramlee then met Saloma, his third wife. They remained together until the day he died. The downfall of P.Ramlee’s brilliant career ended with the separation of Singapore from Malaya. As a patriot, P.Ramlee decided to move to Kuala Lumpur. In the final scene, P.Ramlee and Saloma reminisced about their life, singing a meaningful rendition of ‘Air Mata di Kuala Lumpur‘ (Will I be remembered, Sally?) which reflected his life and his worries that he will be forgotten.

I gather from the karaoke-style singing that the leading actor and 2 of the 3 lead actresses were not trained singers, but the humorous lyrics and jokes kept the audiences amused. The lead actor is Tony Eusoff, a Sarawakian architect-turned-actor who did a fine portrayal of P.Ramlee with his trademark hands-on-his-side chicken-wing style and speaking with an intonation.

Nonetheless, the success in the musical is not only attributed to the lively singing and joget-style/ à gogo dancings of the actors and actresses but also relied heavily on the change of props. One of the highlight was the steam train puffing with dry-ice rolling onto stage which later split into two to reveal the singing troupe on the train. It was exciting and wowed the audience. Flashing lights provided glitz, glamour and drama to the stage. The trio of paparazzo provided comedic relief as well as to fill in the gaps in background stories, making the story-line even more enthralling.

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Encore!

I should also praise the well-behaved audiences who did not push nor shove their way into the hall through the single 1-door entrance and for not standing up to get a better view of the low stage. Kudos to the best behaved crowds I have ever came across!

All-in-all, a marvellous night out! Thanks Sandy!

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Source: The Star Online

For more pictures, visit the local daily here.

While reading on P. Ramlee, I came upon an article written by Lim Kit Siang titled ‘Broke and Broken – Should P.Ramlee Have Came Back‘. He felt compelled to pen this article after watching P.Ramlee’s documentary in the History Channel. He used P.Ramlee as a case-study for any talented Malaysian contemplating on returning home to Malaysia. A provoking article as always from one of the Opposition Leaders in Malaysia.

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Exhibition corner

Additional resources on P.Ramlee can be found at P Ramlee Cyber Museum and P Ramlee Museum in Kuala Lumpur.

Hina Matsuri Doll Festival

Hina Matsuri is a big festival in Japan and falls on March 3rd. It literally means the Doll Festival, a day when the families with girls display a very special set of dolls, hina-ningyō, thus praying for their girl’s good health and happiness.

Hina Matsuri is a new tradition which only became popular in the Edo Period (1600-1867) whereby it became customary for maternal grandparents to present a set of dolls upon the birth of their first granddaughter. A full set requires a seven-tiered staircase-like deck on which to display the Emperor and Empress, ministers, attendants, musicians and the procession of dowry goods and is very costly (up to and over one million yen!)

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Lladro Hina Matsuri Porcelain Dolls @ Palace Hotel Tokyo

Here is a link to Llandro’s Hina Matsuri Dolls, which I saw on display in Palace Hotel Tokyo, with the starting price of A$3500 and I am rather keen to get the pair.

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The traditional sets of Hina Matsuri dolls are true works of art with 7 tiers (from Hotel Nikko Kansai, Osaka)

The Emperor (Odairi-sama) and the Empress (Ohime-sama) wearing Heian Period clothing are placed in front of a gold folding screen (byōbu) with two paper lanterns (bonbori) and two flower vases

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The Emperor is holding a shaku (a ritual baton)

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The Empress is holding a fan

Notice the diamond shaped rice cakes placed on the stand with Hina dolls? These are the Hishi-mochi. They are colored in pink (implying peach flowers), white (implying snow), and green (implying new growth).

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Ministers and dowries

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Court attendants, muscians and dowry

The probable origin of Hina Matsuri might be Nagashi-bina (floating paper dolls down a river). Originally, the paper dolls were made to represent each person and all the ill-fortunes that might visit that person in the coming year were wished onto the doll. Then the doll was sent away on the river, taking the bad luck with it.

A taboo to remember is to take the pair of Hina Dolls down after March 3rd – however, if the family is too busy to dismantle the set, the dolls must be turned around, otherwise, misfortune might fall on the daugher and she would not be able to find a good husband!

And for the more academically inclined, here is an interesting critical analysis on Hina Matsuri and the Japanese Female, which inquired on the females as ‘controlled victims of Japanese patriarchy‘ from its sombre and not-so-happy significance.

Today, March 8th is also the International Women’s Day which I found out from the morning show talking heads. Seriously, why do they equate women’s power through style and dressing? Don’t they know that the stars before and after are so totally different? Most stars are from the ghettos anyway. The world’s most powerful woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Australia’s richest woman, mining magnate Gina Rinehart are powerful, but they are not stylish!

Anyway, before I tangent off, here is a link to the virtual Girl Museum online – ‘Celebrating Girlhood Worldwide’!