Thursday, November 5, 2015

TALK: Presenting / Representing the Chinese Image

“Presenting/Representing the Chinese Image”

A Klein Sun Gallery panel talk
525 West 22nd Street

Tuesday November 10, 6-8pm
RSVP required:

AAAC Director Bob Lee will be amongst the panelists.

A Gentle Art for Your Gentle Heart: Beginners Tai Chi with Dino Blanche

3-5pm, Sunday 8 November
Suggested donation $10

T'ai chi ch'uan is a gentle and contemplative form of martial art which can be practiced for self-defense or for the improvement of health and stress reduction. Combining deep breathing with slow, flowing movement, the meditative practice of Tai Chi rebalances our qi, or vital life force, turning nervous tension into vibrant positive energy and increasing our capacity to cope with stress.

Dino Blanche teaches Tai Chi as a form of martial art, emphasizing its abilities to fight stress and the associated ill health and bad temperament it causes each of us. Stress is what stimulates the fight or flight reflex, but the martial stances, gestures and controlled breathing pattern of Tai Chi communicates to one's subconscious that you are protecting yourself, which produces a calm mind and balances your central nervous system. Dino says, "Through taking on a Tai Chi attitude you fight back those hurtful thoughts and worries that vex and trouble your gentle heart. With Tai Chi, we learn how to relax, face the world with openness, fearlessness, and find the sacred warrior's path in everyday life."

For this beginner's workshop at Inner Fields, Dino will instruct you in three basic breathing (Qi Gong) exercises and teach you ten movements of the Laughing River Tai Chi Form.

Dino Blanche is the founder of The Laughing River, a martial arts training and consulting agency in Queens, NY, which specializes in Jujitsu, Tai Chi, meditation and 'Reverse Gravity Training'. He has been teaching martial arts for forty years and his programs are award winning and internationally recognized. For more information, visit

Find out more

Dino's work is in the permanent collection at the Asian American Arts Centre

Monday, October 12, 2015

Archives Week 2015: Meet Artasiamerica: The Presence of Asian American Artists in the U.S., 1945-2015

Please join the Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC) for an open house and informal discussion of Artasiamerica, a professional digital archive of Asian/Asian American contemporary visual culture from 1945 to the present. Artasiamerica is a historical image & document archive that includes visual artists who have participated in AAAC's exhibition program, begun in 1983.

Artasiamerica is a high-quality research tool accessible globally to scholars, historians, curators, artists, as well as an educational resource for college and high school students, teachers, and community members.

Space is limited, and RSVP is required. Please complete the form in order to RSVP by October 15, 2015.

Friday, October 16, 2015

gallery onetwentyeight
128 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002
Admission: Free

Friday, September 18, 2015

EXHIBITION: Aboveground—40 Moments of Transformation”

“Aboveground—40 Moments of Transformation” 

A photography exhibition of young feminist activism in China 

(9/23-9/27, 2015, 3:30pm-7pm) 

Reception: 9/24/2015, 4:30pm-7pm 

The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center (The Clemente)

LES Gallery, ground floor 107 Suffolk Street NY, NY 10002

 F,J, M or Z trains to Delancey/Essex Street. Main entrance on Suffolk st. (btw Delancey and Rivington)

We are thrilled to announce "Aboveground—40 Moments of Transformation", a photography exhibition of young feminist activism and the struggle for gender equality in China. Co-hosted by China Rights in Action, Feminist Task Force, and Asian American Arts Centre, the opening reception will take place on Thursday, September 24, from 5-7 pm. Guest speakers will begin at 5pm.

Feminism calls for freedom from restrictive gender roles and for gender equality in the realization of social, cultural, economic and political rights. "Aboveground—40 Moments of Transformation" documents young Chinese activists' impressive efforts to combat stigma, discrimination, and violence against women in pursuit of these ideals. These activists use public spaces as their battlefront to gain visibility and spark open dialogue. But, in China’s repressive environment, bringing the fight for gender equality above ground comes at great personal risk. This exhibition frames and explores the determination with which these young feminists are pushing for a China with true gender equality.

Background information:

In 1995, 189 governments came together in China and adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. These documents were a remarkable milestone, committing to a vision for women and girls of equal rights, freedom, and opportunities in all spheres of society and of lives free from want, fear, and violence. Two decades later, ironically, feminists and lawyers in China who fight for such equal rights are subjected to search, harassment, and even detention. On March 7, 2015, the Chinese government detained five women activists on the eve of International Women’s Rights Day for their efforts to call attention to sexual harassment. The women received an outpouring of support from feminists, women’s groups, human right organizations, and politicians around the world. But dark clouds are still gathering inside China. Although “The Feminist Five” were released after 37 days, it was conditioned on a strict form of bail that limits their movement, associations, and speech, and they are still treated as criminal suspects by Chinese police.

On September 27, UN Women and China are co-hosting a “Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Commitment to Action.” China’s President, Xi Jinping, will give the opening remarks and chair the first part of the meeting at the UN. While this political gesture will be welcomed by some global audiences as a sign of China’s progress, in reality, women’s rights in China will remain in peril as long as those who fight for them face violence and persecution.

Please RSVP to

For press inquiries, contact

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tai Chi as Meditation - a introduction with Robert Lee Sunday September 13th, 3-5pm

Dear friend,
I would like to invite you to the opening of Inner Fields 2ed session.
Tai Chi as Meditation
a introduction with Robert Lee
Sunday September 13th, 3-5pm

I'd like to warmly invite you to a talk and participatory demonstration of the gentle and contemplative martial art form t'ai chi ch'uan this Sunday afternoon at Inner Fields.

T'ai chi ch'uan combines deep breathing with slow, flowing movement.
Robert Lee is the Executive Director & Curator of the Asian American Arts Centre, participating in its founding in 1974 and the Asian American Arts Alliance in 1983. He will offer an introductory approach to his practice as a form of meditation.  Although he is not a teacher of tai chi, Robert has been a practitioner of for several decades, and has a meditation practice which spans over 15 years.”

This talk and demonstration will begin with a warm up, an exercise to get a sense of the temper and the flow of chi, then a brief section of the form and some tai chi walking. This will be repeated so audience watching can rotate with those participating.

There are many health benefits attributed to tai chi, such as improving balance, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, immune system response, concentration and a sense of overall happiness. However according to Robert, tai chi's values and qualities are best experienced rather than described. And practiced as meditation it can help to quiet oneself, which can lead to a more transparent mind.

“Some artists enter similar states with their art practice, thus making art can be a rich a form of inner knowledge and satisfaction, if not joy.  Much like art, tai chi is incommensurable, non-translatable, and categorizing does not convey anything by way of an introduction to its practice. It is better if there is no 'why' or 'should'. What I've come to practice is tai chi as meditation - an inner path, a silence." - Robert

The suggested donation for this event is $5-10 and all contributions will go towards supporting Inner Fields. Refreshments will be provided. Space is very limited so please RSVP to by Friday September 11th to be added to the list.

Elaine Su-Hui

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

EXHIBITION: Made in USA / Some Parts Imported

Heidi Lau, Lithos Sarkophagus

Nicole Awai, Audacious Asphalt (detail), acrylic paint, graphite, nail polish, bubble wrap, construction foam, polyester mesh, resin and flocking on synthetic paper

Jenny Cho, Suburbia: Cul-de-sac (detail), oil on canvas

Arthur Simms, Skunk, Rollerskate, wire, bones, wood 

Armita Raafat, Untitled 1, Plastic, resin, mirrors and paint

Monica Palma Narvaez, Ti ti ta ta ta, Charcoal and color pencil on paper

Arthur Simms, Beaver Stick, Feathers, wood, wire, screws, rock

Caption: AAAC Exec. Director Bob Lee and Manager of Archive Mitsuko Brooks meet co-curators Naomi Reis & Heidi Lau and artists Jenny Cho and Esperana Mayobre during the closing of "Made in USA / Some Parts Imported" at TSA New York in Bushwick. 


TSA is pleased to present “Made in USA / Some Parts Imported,” curated by Naomi Reis with Heidi Lau and featuring the work of Nicole Awai, Jenny Cho, Ignacio González-Lang, Christopher K. Ho, Daisuke Kiyomiya, Heidi Lau, Esperanza Mayobre, Mónica Palma Narváez, Armita Raafat, and Arthur Simms. At a time when most American manufacturing has moved offshore and the question of origin is so hotly disputed (e.g. the debate about President Obama’s birthplace), where something is made—and by whom—remains a basis for perceived value. Using the Country of Origin label as a metaphorical starting point, this exhibition brings together 10 artists currently working in the U.S. who were born or grew up elsewhere. Their work blends an American reference point with a global consciousness that comes from outside the Euro-American canon; it is “Made in the USA” from a perspective that resists correlation to a fixed point on the traditional world map.

Grounded in a celebration of technique and a strong understanding of materials, this group of artists distills disparate cultural influences in the objecthood of the work itself, combining impossible geographies into a singular entity: the eye of a storm around which swirl questions of identity, formalism, and beauty. For some the work emerges from a meditative and repetitive motion that offers a retreat from language, a portal to a wordless space where the ego dissolves into the labor of making; for others the work represents a kind of map, a visualization of psychic space that transcends time and place; for another, meaning is derived through a reinterpretation of oil painting. The work is personal and realized through a studio-based practice of trial and error, embodying the ever-evolving process of becoming.

With 2043 set by the U.S. census as the year ethnic minorities become the new majority, the line between mainstream and Other continues to blur. This liminal space—which defies classification in a dichotomous culture of native/foreign, Republican/Democrat, us/them — will increasingly be the place we all inhabit. It’s not that we’re all becoming the same in a new “post-racial” era; it’s that our ability to decode the full spectrum of difference will become more refined. As the work in this show suggests, rather than seeing the world in terms of us versus them, learning the gradient language of Now will open up new ways of understanding and navigating through our shifting place in the new New World.

See reviews of the show at the Agora Culture and Hyperallergic.

Monday, July 20, 2015

China: Through the Looking Glass- An Open Letter 

Dear Friends,

The following is an open letter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art concerning their exhibition China:Through the Looking Glass.  It charges the museum with the continued exotification of Asia and Asians for profit.  By relating this exhibition to Kimono Wednesdays at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the cultural work of the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, it indicates that such exhibitions may serve to maintain the foreignness/otherness of East Asians and Asians/Asian Americans . 

 However, it also discusses the complexity of this problem, the validity of exploring cultural ties, and approaches other than fashion that could lead to some understanding of the cultural presence of Asian aspects and their perception in the West.  Please feel free to reply with your comments.

With Kind Regards,
Bob Lee

To : Met Museum Chairman, President & Costume Curator
Re: China: Through the Looking Glass - An Open Letter

I write to you largely because I was in direct and indirect ways, asked to by professionals in the arts and curatorial fields, people who are close to my field, the cross over arts of Asia and the West - artists who I call Asian American, and close to your institution, the Metropolitan Museum of the Arts.  The subject is an exhibition you currently have on view, China: Through the Looking Glass.  However, its similarity to other museum’s activities clarifies and expands the basis for this letter - Kimono Wednesdays at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston that was recently cancelled, and past exhibitions with similar public programs at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco entitled Geisha in 2004 and Samurai in 2009.  (see, )

These events exhibited refined traditional Asian clothing as the Mets exhibition does, however they went a step further inviting visitors to the museum to try on selected garments or come dressed in traditional Asian clothing as part of a socializing event.  Demonstrations of protest by members of the Asian American community were able to bring about the cancellation of the Boston Museum's event. We've yet to see if contrary demonstrations are able to bring back Kimono Wednesdays. Demonstrations and oppositional art works/happenings in San Francisco since 2005 have evolved a network of scholars and community activists who have established social media sites and thoughtful papers critiquing the museum's curatorial direction.  

Your exhibition materials state: 
Through the looking glass of fashion, designers conjoin disparate stylistic references into a pastiche of Chinese aesthetic and cultural traditions.  High fashion is juxtaposed with Chinese costumes, paintings, porcelains, and other art, including films, to reveal enchanting reflections of Chinese imagery... infused at every turn with romance, nostalgia, and make-believe. Fashion designers such as Paul Poiret and Yves Saint Laurent are mentioned.  

If the Met were a department store, or a movie theatre I think the public would understand that this is a commercial venture designed to entertain and promote, featuring stunning garments created out of the fashion industry’s illustrious past and present inspired by the mystery and inscrutability of China's distant past. Your disclaimer that this is not related to any commercial intentions and has a legitimate theme of re-evaluating Edward Said’s ideas of Orientalism is clearly an excuse to affirm the acceptability and dominance of the Western market and its reliance on Orientalist notions. That films from China and of Anna May Wong participate in these fantasies of China does not support your claims of overlapping creative complexity, rather they affirm the power of the dominance of Western Orientalist commitments to define the Other as they see fit. 

Neither Anna May Wong nor even many in China’s creative community can succeed in the marketplace without meeting audiences expectations of China’s serenity as aesthetic make-believe. This aside from abiding by Beijing’s regulations of never depicting reality. Audiences are dazzled, they are entertained. And why not. This has been established as the norm, easily imaginable as a reality in a high class interior design magazine.  Mao’s jacket (Tseng Kwong Chi’s spectacular politically infused humor) and Vivienne Tan’s dress based on Zhang Hongtu’s art (recognized as the initiator of art ridiculing Mao) on the first floor, become gris for your mill, a contrary aesthetic left in the dust of a long flight of stairs to a higher plateau of really classy stuff. 

The question is then, has the Met become a department store?  Has its role held in the public trust been compromised by the fashion industry's largess, to authenticate and sanction a long term 'fashion' a cultural direction that will reap years of profit? Are you doing this in line with other museums, like the Boston Museum of Fine Arts or the San Francisco Asian Art Museum? Are you testing a national cultural policy obviating the presence of Asian Americans and preferring to further entrench a fantasy about China, about Chinese and Chineseness?

 Has the scholarly role of the museum been forgotten such that in the beautifully installed displays historically important art pieces play second fiddle to well dressed dummies? If a museum goer seeks to discover what is true about a culture and a people, how do you think they will feel to see that put aside by the fashion musings of those who take as their birthright to dream up fantasies of whatever turns them on? Or should I say, whatever works in the marketplace. This exhibition demonstrates how your mission and the public trust that have been given to you, can be given a vacation, perhaps not just in this instance, but more often than your public would like to think. Your willingness to affirm and sanction the continued exotification of Asia is blatant, It is a disservice not only to the Asian American community, but to the American public and their hopes to move beyond racial stereotypes.

But wait, perhaps I am being too harsh.  After all, cultural appropriation takes place all the time, everywhere.  We live in an era of cultural borrowings, of false starts that nevertheless hang on and sustain a profit, of artistic re-inventions that die and those that catch on and flourish, of great controversial creations that walk the line between who your willing to offend and who your not. The marketplace does not care for what you stand for or what you believe, or whether every shred of reality dissolves into fantasy.  It only cares about whether it sells.  Does the name ‘Opium’ enhance a perfume’s capacity to sell more? Does a natural gas company have the right to destroy sacred land of Native Americans? Does the Redskins football team have the right to call themselves Redskins?  Does a museum have the right to occasionally become a department store?

I happened to meet the curator of the San Francisco Asian Art Museum whose role it was to mount three contemporary exhibitions a year.  Oddly his PhD was not in contemporary art, rather it was in the Chinese Bronzes, the formative era of Chinese civilization over 4,000 years ago. I was curious because my mentor had written his tome and become an authority on the bronzes of the Late Chou Dynasty.  I do have some sympathetic leanings for a contemporary cultural direction of this sort. As one art/history buff to another we do know that the affinity between Asia and the West goes much further back to Europe’s Migration Peoples as evidenced by the fibula pins you have in one of your display cabinets. We do know also that Christopher Columbus emerged from the psychic confrontations of that period and that he was originally looking for Asia, not just for its wealth but for its wisdom, its philosophy. I admit, there is some validity for the theme of your exhibition. I even have a confession - my organization, Asian American Arts Centre, at an outdoor Asian American Heritage Festival, did have a prized Kimono and Samurai costume and did allow the public to try them on and take pictures, all with the blessings of one of our dancers who was from Japan - these precious garments belonged to her. 

Am I guilty, is the Asian American Arts Centre guilty of exactly what I am charging the Met, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum and the Boston Fine Arts Museum of? AAAC is part of an Asian ethnic immigrant community struggling to survive gentrification, to retain its traditions as hundreds of its creative artists struggle mightily to wrest from the city, its detritus and its media pounding through their beings, snatches of meaning that somehow can be made into the stuff of what America is, to be recognized for their innovative art signifiers inclusive of the appropriations they knew necessary.  In my view the difference does not lie in my right or your right to use these art garments, these distorted cultural signifiers, as well as these emerging potentially potent new art signifiers waiting interminably to be seen, heard, & felt, the difference does not lie in our willingness to appropriate what each of us wants to signify to bring forth a true audience.  

The difference lies in power, the power to create and sanction a fashion trend, the power to instill in the public romanticised notions of what China and Chineseness is and do this for profit, the power to destroy sacred land regardless of the people for whom the land is sacred given as a minority their beliefs can be disregarded. Your institution is entitled, entitled to choose, to determine value, to manipulate the cultural signifiers of others as you wish, to retain the right of the more powerful to consume and profit without guilt. 

Do the Redskins football team have the right to wear their Redskins helmet? When I think of this I am reminded of Donald Trump.  Not him but his son, in Africa, killing elephants. I think of the trophies he will take home and place on his wall, the heads of animals he will have won. How important, even essential for him to have such trophies, for without them what does he have?

I also think of the archeological dig into Machu Picchu, that after the written language had been deciphered recently, the servants and native workers supporting the archeological team, rose up to claim the artifacts that is their ancestral culture. The people are learning to take ownership of their own culture, not leaving it to those who claim to mean well.  

Though my head is filled with art works of young artists who I've supported, (they're older now but I still think of them as young, in fact two of them are on the first floor of your exhibit) my thoughts turn to a film my daughter was spellbound by when she was three years old. I offer this to you in gratitude for that one moment in your exhibition when the moon and its reflection spoke volumes. It was On Golden Pond in 1981, with Kathryn Hepburn, Henry Fonda, and Jane Fonda, and the sound of the Loons as dusk fell echoing across the lake.  Jane was having marital problems and had to leave her two small children with these old timers who just wanted a restful time on their old lake cottage. Henry Fonda could tilt and put the cast and viewers on alert of an impending fall, perhaps due to the upheaval scurrying children can cause.

Its was at this stage of life that Kathryn, in a private moment alone, as she passed through a tiny clearing midst the foliage surrounding the cottage, that she was moved to do a little dance, a sorta powwow jig, softly murmuring a child's rhyme, quickly interrupted by the arrival of one member of the family or the other. It was an interlude that just happened, unplanned, a quiet celebration, a marking of these normal moments of daily living on the wing, utterly primal.  That jig, that dance, it just happens. Whether it happens in an artist studio or on the streets of our cities, or in the hearts of children, of seniors, of people of color, always serendipitously, spontaneously. Thats where our faith is, our art, our trust, of where our country, our culture is going. It is not accessible to us by way of a trophy.  It can not be programmed, structured, planned or marketed. It will never arrive to us as a trophy.

My mission my commitment is to a community, to a family of artists, who are part of a larger family.  Yes, I too am concerned about how Asia and its muliplicity of forms will take root on this soil, in recognizable or reinvented, unrecognizable forms. We can only witness and encourage, we cant let capital seek to control where it goes. May I suggest, from my humble abode to yours, that reflecting on what formed your institution and its way of addressing a public is a good thing. If you must take a hiatus from your mission please do so in a space where the art works under your custodianship are not present.

And may I ask one last thing, that the Met invite an Asian American audience to an evening where there is a discussion about the role of a museum and its relation to an Asian American audience (and secondarily to the broader American public.)  The diversity that defines the future of this nation - your obligation to this diversity, not to separate out any one group as foreign, as exotic, needs to be clearly expressed. Our culture and institutions will change as the color of Americans change. Are you in tune with them, are you preparing for change?

With Kind Regards,
Robert Lee
Exec. Dir.
Asian American Arts Centre

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

GIRL IN GLASS : How much is a human life ultimately worth?

On Sale July 14, 2015 Amazon - B&N - iBooks - your local indie

 "In this courageous and passionate book, Deanna Fei tells the story of delivering a medically fragile child at 25 weeks. Even those who know the outcome will be gripped by the novelistic depiction of oscillating hope and despair. But the real accomplishment of this book is that it takes memoir as a jumping-off point for pondering the obligations attached to scientific progress and collective wealth.
 In addressing the issue of how much a human life is ultimately worth, it becomes a deeply moving work of moral philosophy." -Andrew Solomon, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of FAR FROM THE TREE

 "Deanna Fei has written three gripping tales in one--hertranscendent journey as the mother of a child born way too soon; her plunge into the harsh realities of corporate greed and bumbling when a certain CEO publicly labeled her daughter a 'distressed baby'; and her hard-won understanding of what society owes its most fragile beings. Readers will fall in love with Fei's daughter, and come to see that she is all of our children." -Lisa Belkin, author of LIFE'S WORK and former columnist for the NEW YORK TIMES's Motherlode blog

"Luminous . . . An unflinching testament to the improbable miraculousness of life. This is an astonishing book, full of dark beauty and grace and a hard-earned integrity, one that will haunt me for a long time." -Thrity Umrigar, bestselling author of THE SPACE BETWEEN US and THE STORY HOUR “Fei grippingly details her dread, anxiety, and wonder with her second-trimester delivery… An urgent call for corporate compassion by a woman with a baby in peril.” -Kirkus

From the publisher: Deanna Fei was just five-and-a-half months pregnant when she inexplicably went into labor. Minutes later, she met her tiny baby who clung to life support inside a glass box. Fei was forced to confront terrifying questions: How to be the mother of a child she could lose at any moment. Whether her daughter would survive another day—and whether she should. But as she watched her daughter fight for her life, Fei discovered the power of the mother-child bond at its most elemental.

 A year after she brought her daughter home from the hospital, the CEO of AOL—her husband’s employer—blamed the beautiful, miraculously healthy little girl for a cut in employee benefits and attached a price tag to her life, using a phrase, “distressed babies,” that set off a national firestorm.

Girl in Glass is the riveting story of one child’s harrowing journey and a powerful distillation of parenthood. With incandescent prose and an unflinching eye, Fei explores the value of a human life: from the spreadsheets wielded by cost-cutting executives to the insidious notions of risk surrounding modern pregnancy; from the wondrous history of medical innovation in the care of premature infants to contemporary analyses of what their lives are worth; and finally, to the depths of her own struggle to make sense of her daughter’s arrival in the world. Above all, Girl in Glass is a luminous testament to how love takes hold when a birth defies our fundamental beliefs about how life is supposed to begin.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hinterland Arts

Asian American Arts Centre & The Cultural Equity Group presents "Hinterland Arts" at the New Museum's Ideas City

 On Saturday, May 30th 12pm in First Street garden/pavilion near 2nd Ave
Extended - 1pm to 230 pm at CSV - Teatro Latea 107 Suffolk St 2ed Floor 

The Asian American Arts Centre and the Cultural Equity Group (CEG) will bring artists and members of CEG together to see art images and speak about a greater role for the art and culture of this city’s diverse neighborhoods and communities. This conversation brings to light what has been largely invisible in the underbelly of forgotten neighborhoods. CEG is a network of art organizations of color whose cultures represent many if not most of New York residents.

 A bill for developing an equitable Comprehensive Cultural Plan for New York City passed into law recently. Thus equity is finally on the agenda of NYC. Now is the time for open public dialogue and to begin a process to understand what “equity” will mean for our neighborhoods, our city and our nation.

Artists: Zhang Hongtu, Charles Yuen, Nancy Hom, Nadema Agard, Melissa Staiger, Pena Bonita, Athena LaTocha, Maria Hupfield, Cecil Lee, Ed Sherman, Minerva Diaz, Ademola Olugebefola.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Nuo, The Forgotten Folk Art

What is Nuo?
Nuo is a form of Chinese masked drama enacted by a priest or specially trained shamans as a means of exorcism; it is also a theatrical performance with a presentational aspect, and festival, with the idea of gathering to establish ties and norms between heaven and earth, life and death, man and gods, the ruler and his subjects, a very prominent Chinese cosmological concept.

The Nuo rituals have been deeply incorporated into Chinese living. It has also spread widely among people of various ethnicities throughout the ages. One can see many of the similarities to shamanistic practice that knowing the spirit world requires masks, dancing, motion, and theatrical or ceremonial set-up. Considered "spiritual tutors", professional Nuo performers are believed to be capable of wielding magic power to disperse evil demons, spirits, and pestilence. Besides training in ritual procedures and exorcism, the performers also have to be adept in the Nuo opera. The whole ritual procedure includes inviting, welcoming, and thanking spirits. Following the solemn ritual, the Nuo opera will be performed to entertain the spirits. And according to the Chinese folklore, a street parade of legendary generals and deities could best expel evil from the community. Nuo performers at the performing hall or in procession are often equipped with whips and dance in mysterious tunes. They also wear masks painted with black, white and red in various countenances -- some amiable and others ferocious and frightening. Stylistic features and characteristic of the masks vary widely and reveal much about the regions, cultures, and civilizations from which they come. Guizhou and Jiangxi area is famous for the greatest varieties of Nuo opera. Wherever there is a Nuo opera performance in an outlying village, farmers in surrounding villages will trek dozens of kilometers of hillside path to watch. Though some elderly folks still have awe and reverence for the Nuo dancing "gods", fewer now are familiar with the content and expertise of the ritual.

But with the passage of time and increasing popularization of scientific knowledge, the primitive superstitious ritual has now been transformed into a theatrical performance for entertainment and a genre of folk art. Formerly, the ritual gives expression to the uncertainty of early peoples towards the unknown world and universe, but nowadays the most fascinating part is the vivid Nuo opera that follows. The opera itself contains long-standing knowledge about religion, society and ethnic groups in the early stages of human society and provides an important reference for the in-depth study of music, dance and painting as well as other arts. Nuo ritual, considered to be one of the oldest forms of Chinese dancing, is not only a theatrical performance for entertainment in modern society, it is also a matrix of the Chinese arts. From these magical-looking facial coverings, the spectators can theorize on the mythology, art and ancestral view of their creators. The Nuo masks, as the major vehicles in the ritual to transmit gods’ power and benevolence to man, bear a potent, vivid testament of its link with Chinese ancient culture and its folk arts.

The origins and historical background of the Nuo mask ritual
In ancient China, there is a form of dance called Nuo. The Nuo ritual has been practiced in China for thousands of years from the primitive times when early men performed sacrifices and conducted ceremonial services to pay tribute to ancestors, gods, and goddesses while exorcising demons. Dancers used masks to perform at ritual ceremonies to frighten off the ghosts and evil spirits and to relieve people of epidemics. The origins of Nuo culture in Zhejiang province are one of the most ancient and can be traced back over four thousand years to the Liangzhu culture of the neolithic period. In Liangzhu’s ancient sites in Yuhang county large numbers of engraved Taotiedesigns on jade have been discovered and are considered the most ancient and the only source of the designs on Nuo masks. Major Nuo rituals in the courts were documented in the classic "The Book of Rites" which mentioned "the golden four eyes", a reference to the metallic masks performing in the Nuo ritual. Today the Nuo exorcising ritual is best known to be carried on yearly in an outlying villages of ethnic Tujia people at the base of Fanjing Mountain and in southwest China's Guizhou and Jiangxi provinces.

In some districts, the Nuo ritualistic dance later developed into a theatrical and formal performance. A story relates that during the North Qi Period (550-557), Lanling King was too handsome to terrorize the enemy even though he was excelled in martial arts. He began to wear a ferocious-looking mask on the battlefields in order to overwhelm the enemy. This story was later brought onto the stage in South-North (420-589) and Sui-Tang dynasties (618-907), which is known as "The Lanling King" The masks used by the performers in ritual ceremonies and in the performing art had a strong bearing on the origination of the facial make-up in the Chinese operatic performances. In Tang dynasty, masks still were used in low comedy, but started to dye the masks in portrayal of super-human beings. In Ming dynasty (1318-1644), roles among actors divided into more classifications, and operas and facial make-up were gradually standardized. During the Qing time, with the rise of Peking opera, the art of facial make-up became increasingly perfected. Toward the end of Qing dynasty, the facial make-up became finalized. It is also believed that the Nuo mask has its direct historical and stylistic connection with other foreign mask rituals in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Nepal, India, Tibet, and Mongolia as well as Sri Lanka.

Nuo ritual, dances, and plays have always flourished in the Chinese cultural areas, right up to the present day, and in olden times performances took place virtually every month. It later spread widely among people of various ethnicities in the Yangze River valley, the Yellow River valley, and also the secluded southwestern region. It is important to note that while Sichuan, the believed birth place of Chinese Nuo dance, is in the northern cultural zone, it is in the southern religious and spiritual centers that Nuo culture continues to exist and be preserved until today.

This article is researched and authored by Robert Lee, Executive Director & Curator Ling-Yi Chien, Art & Education Consultant Asian American Arts Centre