“Plants, the wind, snails, frogs, birds and fishes, all display the beauty of the coast around Lugang (鹿港) and the ecology of Taiwan.”
Apt words written by master carver Huang Ma-ching (黃媽慶) to describe some of the flora and fauna found in and around the old port town located on the central-west coast of Taiwan, an area known for its tradition of woodcarving.
The National Museum of History is currently displaying more than 50 of Huang’s sculptures that cover the past decade and reflect the artist’s deep respect for the country’s environment.
Approaching the narrow hall on the second floor that houses the exhibit, the smell of camphor (樟木) — Huang’s preferred medium — serves as a palliative to the funk of Taipei’s streets.
The carvings on display are collated from Huang’s earlier series variously titled Nature, Lotus, Sea, Gourd and Transmission. The works depict the farming and fishing culture of Changhua County, where Lugang is located, and lend the exhibition a rustic feel. But nature, rather than the area’s traditional subsistence lifestyle, is Huang’s primary preoccupation.
Sponge Cucumbers (絲瓜系列) is representative of Huang’s stand-alone carvings. The intricately sculpted wavy lines of the cucumber’s body converge just below the rough stem and the single wilted leaf is suggestive of autumn. A solitary snail sits on the vegetable’s body and reminds the viewer that more than just farmers gain sustenance from agriculture. The wilted leaf at the stem’s summit is a brilliant flourish both because it hints at nature’s life cycle while at the same time demonstrating Huang’s considerable carving skill.
Huang began his career at the age of 14 as an apprentice under the tutelage of Wang Jin-xuan (王錦宣), a master sculptor who taught him to carve intricate designs on temples as well as Japanese-style latticework transoms — elements of which are discernable in his work over the past two years that show detailed scenes of insects and vegetables.
WHAT: The Melody of Life: An exhibition of Huang Ma-ching’s Woodcarvings (生命之歌: 黃媽慶木雕展)
WHERE:National Museum of History (國立歷史博物館), 49 Nanhai Rd, Taipei City (台北市南海路49號)
WHEN:Until Jan. 4
ON THE NET: www.nmh.gov.tw
Though not as spectacular as the stand-alone works, these framed sculptures are detailed to the point of obsession.
One criticism, though minor, is that the museum director’s words are used to introduce the exhibit. A third of those words are given over to a brief history of Chinese sculpture that, though interesting, is only indirectly related to Huang’s work and the sculptures on display. It would have been far more edifying to use Huang’s own words (found in the preface to a book of Huang’s work located at the exhibit’s entrance) because he explicates more clearly his influences and goals as an artist.
Still, the museum has done an admirable job in displaying the works of one of Taiwan’s finest masters of wood sculpture.