Category Archives: ImaginAsia

ImaginAsia: Celebrating Stories from the Persian Book of Kings

 

Meet Sophie Benini Pietromarchi, a French Italian illustrator and author of The Book Book (published by Tarabooks). On the days leading up to this year’s celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, she organized two workshops at the Freer|Sackler. Attendees produced illustrated folios of the stories of Rustam and the Simurgh from the Persian national epic: the Shahnama.

In the video, Benini gives her unique perspective on what it means to create art and what she feels is the role of museums in modern society. She begins by sharing how it dawned upon her to create a bookmaking guide for children and how the same themes of curiosity and artistic exploration inspired her to organize her collage-based workshops. Describing her own process of creating illustrations for La legión perdida (published by Thule), she notes that she drew upon mosaic art she directly observed in museums.

Benini also notes that one of the main ideas of her workshop was not only to celebrate Persian culture, but to help draw out the innate curiosity of children and demonstrate to them they have the power to create. She credits her friend Azar Nafisi, with whom she collaborated to produce the book Bibi e la voce verde (published by Adelphi), for her interest in Persian culture.

Arguing that the museum is one of the few institutions in contemporary society that cares for preserving human culture, Benini reminds us that museums like the Freer|Sackler have a significant role to play in providing sources of inspiration for us all.

Benini’s workshops were generously supported by the Foundation for Iranian Studies.

Chinese New Year: Celebrating with Food and Art

 

Meet Baolin Zhang, who creates edible festival toys out of rice flour. He will travel to Washington, DC, from Beijing to demonstrate how to make these dough figurines at our third annual Chinese New Year Celebration on Sunday, February 5.

Although this craft does not require complicated skills or rare materials, it does take a lot of artistic practice. At his demonstration, Zhang will show how he kneads colored dough into different shapes. In the video, you can see how he uses small bamboo slits to depict people, animals, and deities from traditional folktales. Along with glutinous rice flour, he uses other edible materials to create his art, including wax and honey to prevent cracking or mildewing.

After watching Bai’s demonstration, you can watch another Beijing artist use liquid sugar to paint beautiful creatures from the Chinese zodiac. Don’t worry if all this edible art makes you hungry: Pinch Dumpling will sell steamed dumplings, which you can enjoy as a casual lunch with friends and family.

All activities are free and open to the public. For more information (and to invite your friends), check out the event listing on Facebook.

Chinese New Year: Painted Clay Sculptures Celebrate Beijing Opera Characters

 

Meet Hongkui Lin, a craftsman of painted clay opera masks. On Sunday, February 5, watch him demonstrate his more than one-hundred-year-old craft at our third annual Chinese New Year Celebration. Lin is visiting from Beijing, and his demonstration will be a rare opportunity for Americans to experience this popular Chinese craft.

As this video shows, the process for making the clay masks is more complex than it might seem at first glance. Like a complicated recipe, one mask takes a minimum of sixteen steps, from carving models on paper to applying base paint and adding enamel.

Lin selects colors to reflect aspects of each character’s identity and personality. Red often represents loyalty, for instance, while black symbolizes integrity. Colors also may signify age. Pink is reserved for elders, and if your character is immortal, it most likely will bear silver or gold.

After watching Lin’s demonstration, you may be inspired to watch thirty-minute opera performances by students from the Beijing Opera Art’s College at 12:30 and 2:30 pm. Or, you may be tempted to make your own opera mask in the museum’s ImaginAsia classroom.

Seating will be first come, first served, and all activities are free and open to the public. For more information (and to invite your friends), check out the event listing on Facebook.

 

On Sunday, February 5, Beijing folk artist Lin Bai will visit the Freer|Sackler as part of our third annual Chinese New Year Celebration. From 12–5 pm, you can watch him demonstrate how to make traditional bristle dolls.

This handicraft originated in Beijing more than a century ago, at the end of Qing Dynasty. In the video, you can see how Bai uses traditional materials to connect to the origins of this art form. He constructs the doll’s head and base from plaster, and he uses straw to shape the character’s bodies. The figures are then dressed in colored paper or silk and lined with cotton padding.

Bai makes characters inspired by popular operatic plays, including Uproar in Heaven and Four Pairs of Mallets. Each character is secured onto a base with a circle of sticks (or bristles), thus giving the dolls their beloved namesake. Once a collection of dolls is finished, the troupe can be placed onto a copper plate. When hit by a mallet, the figures appear to dance due to the sticks’ flexibility.

After watching Bai’s demonstration, you may be inspired to see the dolls come to life in opera performances by students from the Beijing Opera Art’s College at 12:30 and 2:30 pm. Or, you may be tempted to make your own opera mask in the museum’s ImaginAsia classroom.

Seating will be first come, first served, and all activities are free and open to the public. For more information (and to invite your friends), check out the event listing on Facebook.

Art & Me: Conservators in Training

Conservator Ellen Chase works with program participants on reassembling their “ceramic” puzzles during the first Art and Me workshop.

Conservator Ellen Chase works with program participants on reassembling their “ceramic” puzzles during the first Art & Me workshop.

Calling all children ages 3–5 with adult companions! Registration is now open for an art conservation workshop where art and science will collide. On Sunday, October 23, join conservator Ellen Chase to see what goes into preserving precious art objects made of silver. Look at silver works on a gallery tour, and then return to the ImaginAsia classroom to make silver-inspired creations using your newly acquired conservation skills.

This workshop marks the second in a series of Art & Me workshops focusing on art conservation for children ages 3–5. If you are not able to join us in October, here’s a fun activity to try at home, inspired by our May 2016 workshop.

Adrian having fun trying on conservator’s gear at our first workshop in May 2016.

Adrian having fun trying on a conservator’s gear at our first workshop in May 2016.

Become an Art Conservator: The Basics
Your future as an art conservator begins now! There are 40,000 works of art at the Freer|Sackler. How does the museum take care of them all? Cleaning, preserving, and occasionally repairing works of art is known as art conservation, and the people who do this specialized work are called conservators. Art conservators make sure that art and historical objects stay safe for the future—so that they will be there when you grow up and even when your grandchildren grow up.

Try this: Sometimes, the best way to learn is to try things out yourself! Conservators look at objects very carefully to learn about how they are made and to figure out what they need to do to preserve them. Explore your home, and choose an object that’s important and special to you. Look carefully at your special object. What do you see? Do you think that there any parts missing? Would you say it is clean or dirty?

Write down why your object is important to you, and draw a picture of it. Send in your response and picture, and we’ll send back a conservator-in-training button as a prize!

Insider’s tip: It can be hard to see a familiar thing with fresh eyes. Try using a magnifying glass as you examine your object.

Head to our families page to find more events and resources for young museum visitors.

Teen Council: A Conversation about Art in Afghanistan

 

 

One of our jobs as members of the 2016 Freer|Sackler Teen Council is to figure out the significance that art and museums hold for our generation. For exhibitions such as Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan, all twelve of us had to consider a question: Why should we be paying attention to this? First, we had to understand the context of Turquoise Mountain, an organization dedicated to reviving Afghanistan’s cultural legacy. My experience in the exhibition raised another question: Do we know what’s going on in the world?

When the Teen Council brainstormed about what we learned from the exhibition, I wrote down cultural significance. I realized that it’s difficult for Americans, and young people specifically, to understand how vulnerable a culture can be. In moments, chaos can destroy culture, even if it has a lengthy and colorful history. Culture seems like an abstract thing to us, but what Turquoise Mountain made me see is how dependent culture is on individuals and everyday people.

Turquoise Mountain artisan Abdul Matin Malekzadah (back row, third from left) with members of the ArtLab+ and Teen Council, which filmed the video in the exhibition.

Turquoise Mountain artisan Abdul Matin Malekzadah (back row, third from left) with members of the ArtLab+ and Teen Council, which filmed the video in the exhibition.

After we inspected the different Afghan crafts on display, we were left considering what we and other young people should do with this new information. We learned that we would make a video about Turquoise Mountain. It soon became clear that it would be important to emphasize our own perspective. Anyone could have made an informative video on the project and the exhibition, but it was our identities as filmmakers that made it different.

To produce the video, we collaborated with the Hirshhorn’s ARTLAB+ production team, made up of fellow high school students. Abdul Matin Malekzadah, a ceramicist who specializes in the style of pottery made in the village of Istalif, became the representative of Turquoise Mountain’s cultural revival for our video. Bilal, an Afghan American program manager at the Freer|Sackler, translated our conversations, enabling us to better understand Afghan culture on multiple levels.

Bilal, who works at the Freer|Sackler, is Afghan American. His perspective is important to hear.

Bilal, who works at the Freer|Sackler, is Afghan American. His perspective is important to hear.

We learned that Matin’s work is characteristic of ceramics from Istalif, a village near Kabul, which are distinguished by natural potash glazes of green and turquoise. An ancient proverb says, “He who has not seen Istalif has seen nothing.” As we learned about Istalif and its distinguished history, I was struck by how long the village has been known for its pottery, and how quickly the area suffered mass destruction due to its close proximity to Kabul. This made it all the more clear why Turquoise Mountain’s work matters. After spending time with Matin, I can better appreciate how and why he is returning an age-old craft to our modern and ever-changing world.

 

The Freer|Sackler Teen Council is a group of twelve creative and dedicated high school students who help make the museum more welcoming and engaging for young people. The Teen Council plans and hosts events that bring DC-area teens to the museum to hang out, make and design art, and have unique and exciting experiences. Plus, we have a lot of fun and build an incredible community together.

Take a look at some of our upcoming summer events, including our Teen Takeover on Thursday, August 4, 6–9 pm.

Blooming Art

Flowers in the Sackler lobby

Flowers in the Sackler lobby

When I’m at the information desk, I’m often asked about the flower arrangements that greet visitors entering the museum. Since 1997, Smithsonian Horticulturalist Cheyenne Kim has arranged the flowers in the Sackler’s lobby. The vivid blooms are a continuing gift from Else Sackler, Arthur M. Sackler’s first wife.

Inspired by visitors’ frequent questions about the arrangements, I created this family activity for our in-person and online visitors. It’s designed to be a conversation between adults and children ages 4–8. Try it in the museum or at home with one of our many flower-filled artworks.

Pick one word to describe how the flowers make you feel.

What colors do you see?

Are the lines straight? Squiggly? Slanted? Curved?

Think about the smells. Are they sweet? Fresh? Spicy?

Draw your own arrangement. Choose flowers that have the colors, lines, and shapes that you want to see together!

Think about where you would want to display your flower creation.

ImaginAsia: The Lost Finger

Guardian figure; Japan, Kamakura period, 1185–1333; wood (Cryptomeria japonica); Purchase—Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1949.20

Guardian figure; Japan, Kamakura period, 1185–1333; wood (Cryptomeria japonica); Purchase—Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1949.20

All was still, absolutely still as the moon rose over the National Mall in Washington, DC. The visitors had left, and the Freer|Sackler was eerily quiet. A shaft of moonlight pierced the museum’s skylights and flooded over the Japanese guardian figures standing proudly in the hallway. Under the magic of the moon, the figures slowly came to life. Towering over mere mortals and rippling with muscles, the guardians were an intimidating sight. In their earlier history, the figures stood guard in front of a Buddhist temple, but that night they battled fierce demons to defend the art collections of the Freer|Sackler.

The next morning, one of our security officers noticed a finger belonging to the guardian figure pictured above resting on its pedestal. It must have been a fearsome fight . . .

Well, OK, that’s probably not exactly how it happened. The only thing we know for sure about that incident in April 2009 is that the security officer found the finger and called me, Ellen Chase, objects conservator. At the Freer|Sackler, we do have figures who fight to defend the collection—but we aren’t made of wood (and we have much smaller muscles). We work in the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research.

The Freer|Sackler Objects Lab.

The Freer|Sackler Objects Lab.

Please Don’t Touch
When you go to museums, there often are a lot of “Please don’t touch” signs. But why? It’s because art is a lot more fragile than it seems. The guardians are so big that it is hard to imagine they are delicate, but the wood is at least six hundred years old and can be brittle. Instead of being sacrificed during a brutal fight to defend the museum, the finger more likely was knocked off by a visitor who got too close.

Besides the risk of breaking off a piece, there are a few really big reasons why we ask you to not touch the art:

  1. Touching an artwork just one time doesn’t seem like it would have much impact. But each time someone moves their hand across an object, a tiny bit is rubbed off. Over time, this contact can cause a lot of damage. For example, look inside this installation in the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum:rubbed patina _NMNH
    See the part that looks shiny rather than dark? That’s where people have rubbed off the dark brown layer, or patina. It’s OK in this case—the museum intended for people to touch the object—but what if it weren’t?
  2. Everyone has oils on their hands. When you touch something, you leave some of those oils behind, creating your unique fingerprints. Those residues also can cause damage. Check out this lacquer lid of a ewer in our collection that has fingerprints etched into the surface from oils left behind. We can’t get the prints off; they are now part of the object.

    Fingerprint on the lacquer lid of a Karatsu ware ewer or freshwater jar.

    Fingerprint on the lacquer lid of a Karatsu ware ewer or freshwater jar.

  3. Unless you just washed your hands, remainders of anything else you touched recently will be left on the art as well. So those Nacho Cheese Doritos you had in your lunch? Yup. They’re on there too. As conservators, we wash our hands really well before working with art. And for really sensitive materials, like metals or lacquer or ivory, we also wear gloves.

Try This
Many works of art and historic objects are unique, the only examples of their kind in the world. And every time someone touches one of these objects in the gallery, we lose a little bit of history. Wanna see what I mean? Try this activity and see what happens—and send me pictures!

Take a piece of white printer paper and cover half of it with plastic wrap. Place it at the door of your house or classroom, or another place with a lot of foot traffic (the bathroom, maybe?). Ask everyone to touch or rub the material every time they walk by. Check back in two weeks. What has happened to the exposed part of the object? How does it compare to the side that is covered? What does it make you think about museums’ “don’t touch” policy?

collage

This is the first in a series of blog posts for kids who are interested in art conservation. Follow along for more behind-the-scenes looks at why and how we care for our collections, working to protect and conserve art for you today as well as for future visitors. What do you want to know? We’d love to hear your questions and comments!

Art and Hearts for Valentine’s Day

Throughout Valentine’s Day weekend, join us to celebrate love at the Freer|Sackler. Our Love in Every Language programs (12–4 pm on February 13 and 14) will feature a slideshow of depictions of love in our collections. Japanese artist Kajita Hanko created this work, Unrequited Love, in 1903 for a novel of the same name.

 

FS-7955_05

 

Couple in a Landscape was created in the 1600s, possibly in Herat in historical Iran (present-day Afghanistan). The painting is surrounded by landscape and animal motifs.

 

FS-7422_38

 

Other fun activities include the opportunity to create Valentine’s Day cards, using woodblock prints that say “love” in more than a dozen languages. You also can fold heart-shaped origami. Should you wish to get a jump-start, watch a video that guides you through the process:

 

 

This program is suitable for all ages with adult companions. Join us in the ImaginAsia classroom, located on sublevel 2.  Don’t miss out!

Celebrate the Year of the Monkey

Monkeys Grasp for the Moon by Xu Bing

Monkeys Grasp for the Moon by Xu Bing

Calling visitors of all ages: Ring in the Year of the Monkey at our second annual Lunar New Year Celebration on Saturday, February 6, 11 am–4 pm. Join us to explore the museum, take family-friendly tours of the suspended sculpture Monkeys Grasp for the Moon, and enjoy dance performances by the Madison Chinese Dance Academy. Plus: ribbon dancing, mask making, calligraphy, photo booth fun, and Lunar New Year resolutions!


About the Artwork

Chinese artist Xu Bing created Monkeys Grasp for the Moon specifically for the Freer|Sackler. Each of the sculpture’s twenty-one pieces represents the word “monkey” in one of a dozen different languages and writing systems, including Indonesian, Urdu, Hebrew, and Braille. The work is based on a Chinese folktale in which a group of monkeys attempt to capture the moon. Linking arms and tails, they form a chain reaching down from a tree branch to the moon—only to discover that it is just a shimmering reflection in a pool of water.

Listen to Xu Bing chat about the work during its initial installation at the Freer|Sackler (click on “Interview with the Artist”).