Kean University exhibit celebrates Chinese culture

Kean University celebrates Chinese culture with the exhibit “Vibrant Bounty: Chinese Folk Art of the Shaanxi Region” at its Karl and Helen Burger Gallery. The show coincides with the lunar Chinese New Year, marking the arrival of the Year of the Dog.

Kean University enjoys a close cultural cross-pollination with China, anchored by its satellite campus located in Wenzhou, in the Zhejiang Province of the People’s Republic of China.

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(Photo: ~Courtesy of Kean University)

“Kean is no stranger to the rich and profound cultures of the world,” said University President, Dawood Farahi.

Shengtao Zhao, “Harvesting Sugar Cane in the North,” tempera on paper (Photo: ~Courtesy of Kean University)

The Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City organized the show, which features elegant, stylized depictions of pastoral scenes from the rural region of Shaanxi Province, one of the cradles of Chinese civilization. Charming “peasant” paintings, bright with color and vitality of design, celebrate the collaboration between the labor of man and the bounty of nature.

Depictions of activities such as harvesting sugar and rinsing cloth demonstrate stylistic connections with the traditional Chinese folk arts of embroidery, batik, paper-cutting, and wall painting. The artists paint with a mixture of powdered pigment and water known as “shui fen,” a medium akin to gouache or tempera.

“This exhibit provides an opportunity for all students to become better acquainted with one of the earliest ancient civilizations through art,” Farahi said, “as well as for students from China who are studying on the Union campus to experience traditional folk art.”

The exhibit also includes utilitarian artifacts of rural China that elaborate the national spirit and contextualize the paintings. This includes children’s clothing and toys, New Year’s prints and decorative household items and more. Carefully handcrafted items, frequently embroidered with lucky figures and animals.

Both the art and the objects convey the spirit of a region of China analogous with the American Midwest, dominated by agriculture and an earthy populace.

“Students and visitors can celebrate Chinese culture with a museum quality exhibition of folk art right here on campus,” said gallery director, Neil Tetkowski.

In a second exhibition, the university showcases the work of Italian artist Franca Marini in “Transnational MIgration and Immigration,” at its Human Rights Gallery. The display complements the upcoming Human Rights Institute Conference at Kean, “Seeking Refuge: Immigration and Forced Migration Around the World,” scheduled for Friday, March 23.

“Marini uses the humanitarian crisis in Italy to focus on universal human rights,” said Tetkowski, “including issues of economy, politics, and conflict, which ultimately influence refugees and immigrants around the world.”

Marini creates visual meditations on the issues surrounding immigrants, migrants, and refugees, culture clash and culture shock, as viewed through the lens of contemporary Italian dynamics. Her work challenges viewers to penetrate past reactionary biases and into more nuanced modes.

“I feel a deep need and ethical responsibility to process this crisis through my artwork,” Marini said. “I’ve chosen to represent both the physical journey of those who are forced to risk their lives in hope of a different destiny, and the interior journey of transformation.”

“This is a special opportunity to share my work within a public academic institution,”  Marini said, “to inspire and educate the students and others who are here to expand their horizons.”

From <My Central Jersey>

by Ralph J. Bellantoni, Correspondent