Past Exhibitions

Shadow Play / Lily and Honglei

Curator: Shir Meller-Yamaguchi

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The folk art of the Chinese Shadow Puppet Theater probably began in the 6th century (during the Tang dynasty), as an effective means to disseminate religious legends, tales, historical narratives, and the values of justice and morality. Over the years, the design of the dyed leather shadow puppets reached a high level of complexity in terms of their cutting, delicacy, and coloration, and an impressive, magnificent repertoire of characters and set decorations developed. With the dramatic—ideological, technological, and cultural—changes in China in the 20th century, this art form has waned in popularity and nearly become a thing of the past. It has been preserved mainly through the work of collectors such as Richard Hardiman. Items from his shadow puppet theater collection are presented in the exhibition.
Folk art which is deeply rooted in cultural consciousness, however, has the power to revive itself when it is relevant to its time. Thus, in Shadow Play by New York-based Chinese artist duo Lily and Honglei, the shadow puppets reappear in a new guise within a seemingly naïve set. Originally created in the augmented reality technique, the work was adapted for screening as a slideshow presentation, and images from it are presented in the exhibition. Under the magical cover of the traditional shadow puppets, the artists put forth a critical stance as a metaphorical expression of the shadows clouding over contemporary China.
The radical transformations experienced by China over the past thirty years are reflected in Shadow Play through the tragic story of a rural family. The father, the head of the village, was murdered because he publicly opposed the destruction of his village. The story told by Lily and Honglei reflects what has been happening all over China: villages and rural neighborhoods are being razed, people who object to this are being murdered by interested parties, children are being abducted, migrant workers who have relocated from small villages to cities live in appalling conditions in filthy, overcrowded underground dwellings, pollution accumulates, and public security is undermined. Basic values such as human life, freedom, and dignity are being trampled in broad daylight. Lily and Honglei sketch this grim reality as a surrealistic legend, in which mesmerizing beauty and horror feature side by side. Green sunlight and a yellowish-red enchanted moonlight become obfuscated by the horror of shadowed existence.
Scenes from the traditional shadow puppet theater, presented alongside scenes from its contemporary counterpart, offer a perspective on the lingering, age-old conflict between man’s lowly, demonic side, manifested in greed, violence and exploitation, and the beautiful, exalted facet of human existence, reflected in harmony, cooperation, altruism, and dedication.
Dr. Shoshan Brosh-Vaitz and Shir Meller-Yamaguchi