The exhibition was prepared by the National Gallery in Prague - Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art in cooperation with the National Art Museum of China.
Curators: Fan Di'an, Yi E
Coordinator: Svetlana Michajlová
Dancing Light and Shadow
There is a shadow as long as there is light. The world is becoming gorgeous and splendid as long as there is light and shadow. People in the ancient time adopted light and shadow as media and created a kind of the folk drama with good combination of carving, painting, literature, drama, music and performance. It is the earliest backdrop art in the world. The art inspired the start of the film art. And Georges Sadoul, French film historian, regarded the Chinese shadow play as "the forerunner of the film".
Shadow play along with puppet show belongs to puppet play which is a faked man show operated by the person. Puppet show is three-dimensional but shadow play is flat. Shadow play was originally made of paper and then the leather with stained colors. The articulated figures are characters and scenes in performance as well as unparalleled exquisite visual rolls as independent artistic works in terms of the shape, structure, color and medium. They are the fruit of folk artists of different generations. Over the past millennia, shadow play, a unique performance form, has been shining like a star in the sky of Chinese folk art. But since the start of the 20th century, the development of modern entertainment, especially TV and movies, has lead to the decay of the art. To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between China and the Czech Republic, during the Chinese Cultural Festival in the Czech Republic, the National Art Museum of China has assembled shadow play collection to showcase to Czech people the magic of the ancient Chinese art.
The exhibition comprises a total of 47 groups of artworks, based on those from the eastern school of Shaanxi province along with the western school of Shaanxi, Shanxi, Beijing, Tangshan and Liaoning. The exhibits cover a wide range from the 17th century to the 20th century, mostly those from the 19th century. It comprises three sections, namely, "shadow•figure", "shadow •object" and "shadow•play".
Yi E - curator / Deputy Director of the Academic Department of the National Art Museum of China
Shadow as a Message
Emperor Wu Di who reigned between 57-187 BC under the Han Dynasty was greatly saddened by the death of his favorite concubine, Lady Li. So his advisors could help him forget his sorrow, they asked a medicine man to create a figure which looked liked Lady Li. The shadow of this figure was projected on a curtain so the emperor would have the feeling that the spirit of his favorite lover was still with him.
This story is considered the beginning of shadow theatre. It is not important whether this story is true or not, what is important is that it is beautiful and evokes what is most important in Chinese shadow theatre - its delicacy and mysticism. It shows that shadow is something real and fictitious likewise. Shadow is a fleeting impression of reality. It possesses its verity, but filters away vulgarity and its fleetingness enters a space in which dreams, imagination and desires are found.
Chinese puppet theatre is very old as incidentally are most Chinese cultural phenomena. Behind each of the characters or objects (shadow theatre erases the difference between the puppet and decoration) you can sense the long history.
Shadow as a symbol of life accompanies humankind in all cultures. At the Christmas Eve table when the family comes together once a year in order to sit down to a festive dinner, everyone who sits at the table must have his own shadow which, despite its intangibility and fleetingness, guarantees those present to live through to the next year as in accordance with old superstitions. Is there not something of this also in the message of Chinese shadow puppets? Chinese puppets are silent envoys of Chinese culture. I am convinced that the sphere of art is the most appropriate territory for mutual understanding.
Milan Knížák / General Director of the National Gallery in Prague