Sun, Jan 16, 2005 - Page 19 News List

More of the same old Hakka fare

Taipei City Hall has dished up an uninspired and awkwardly located exhibition

By Susan Kendzulak  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

To celebrate the second anniversary of Taipei's Hakka Affairs Commission, a small exhibition featuring painter Zeng Ying-qi and photographer Chi Kuo-chang (紀國章) titled Peony in the Wind -- the Splendor of Taipei's Hakka Culture is now showing at the Taipei Hakka Cultural Hall until April 15.

Billed as an exhibition showcasing Taiwanese artists "dedicated to creating fresh Hakka culture [who] break through the restrictions of cultural stereotypes to present new, non-traditional Hakka art," it turned out to be a letdown, as it seemed to be false advertising on two counts: the exhibition space and the art on view.

The Taipei Hakka Cultural Hall sounds impressive, but it is located in the outer hallway near the elevator banks by the Hakka Affairs Commission office stationed in Taipei City Hall. It does not have its own room and is merely the passageway to get to other offices, exits and restrooms.

The catalog introduction by Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) states that "Everyone is welcome to visit the Taipei Hakka Cultural Hall for the exhibition or just to drink tea and chat."

A lounge area for drinking tea was nowhere to be seen, but there was a hot water machine near the elevator, so bring your own tea bags.

Even though it is not a typical art viewing space, the office staff are quite friendly and eager to provide information, brochures and magazines about Hakka life. So the artwork on display may not be so impressive or there may not be such a comfortable place to chat, but the opportunity to learn about the culture is well worth the trip if you're interested in aspects of anything Hakka, such as finding out that they originally came from central China and that wherever they emigrated to, they still retained the tradition of working the fields in good weather and studying in bad.

The peony is the metaphor for the blossoming of Hakka culture in the midst of the strong winds of other cultures. Best-known for their mountain songs, this exhibition shows some traditional aspects of their lives.

Spotlights shine on the six framed color ink paintings by Zeng, making it a bit difficult to see the imagery due to the glare of the lights. The paintings show slices of life such as a nice Hakka girl wearing a traditional blue and white robe while wistfully holding a paper parasol in an overwhelming field of larger-than-life pink peonies.

In another, the heads of the three bearded mountain kings stare out from a field of peonies. The three mountain kings were the protectors of Hakka migrants as they represented the three mountains of Guangdong, China. And when the Hakka came to Taiwan, low-lying fertile grounds were already inhabited so they had to settle in mountainous areas, thus making the mountain gods a very important spiritual symbol for them.

In Taiwan, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, and Taichung were favored spots for Hakka settlements. Photographer Chi Kuo-chang (who is also showing his photos at the Nanjing East Road FNAC until Feb. 20) tries to capture those moments of contemporary life for those Taiwanese Hakka in Taipei.

The photos and paintings on view do not "break through the restrictions of cultural stereotypes to present new, non-traditional Hakka art" as promised, but seem to be more of the same old, same old.

Exhibition notes:

What: Peony in the Wind -- the Splendor of Taipei's Hakka Culture (客家風華 -- 曾盈齊彩墨、紀國章攝影聯展)

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