Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Haunted by art

Jade suit for corpse (male).
Image from A Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization
by Patricia Buckley Ebrey
When I was four years old, my parents owned a book of Asian art they displayed on a bookshelf in our Toronto apartment. I thumbed through the pages of this gorgeous volume and gasped when I saw the image of a Chinese jade burial suit. Who was this man lying down so stiffly? I was struck by the figure's facelessness and stillness. It frightened me. I dreaded walking near the bookshelf and shivered any time I thought about the jade burial suit.

Now I'm a 40-something mom and I'm finding myself once again haunted by art. 

I'm curating a contemporary art exhibition in San Francisco this spring: Hungry Ghost: Yearning for Fulfillment. Even though I conceived the exhibition premise and instinctively knew that it was a powerful concept for artists to embrace, I was still taken aback by the incredible assortment of literary and visual works the call for submissions yielded.

All of this came about when I answered a call for proposals for the Asian American Women Artists Association's Emerging Curators Program in December. I was thrilled when I was selected and it has been an incredibly enriching experience developing this exhibition.

In reviewing the submitted artwork, a number of the pieces affected me profoundly. I asked artists to address their demons. And they did. They responded with powerful essays, illustrations, mixed media installations, paintings, photography, poetry and sculpture. Some of the pieces stuck with me and stayed on my mind for days, weeks.

This is what we expect from art, right? It is meant to stir us, to challenge and stimulate us. Some of the works submitted for this exhibition covered intensely emotional topics: abandonment, incest, suicide. Yet, somehow, these artists found a way to transform their pain into amazing art that resonates and reflects the human condition. It is inspiring and awesome.


HapaMama said...

That is creepy! Even for an adult. A few years ago, I saw the terra-cotta warriors exhibition at the Bowers Art Museum in Orange County. Fascinating, but slightly macabre. Like I said, reminded me of the King Tut exhibit I saw as a child. Egyptian art still scares me.

Lisa said...

I love the terra-cotta warriors, but I would not want to be in the museum alone with them. Same with Egyptian art. (I think I may have watched too many Scooby Doo episodes.)