Works of art during Japanese rule laid the foundation for Taiwanese identity

By Ken Wang, CNA Editor-in-Chief

Walking the streets of Dadaocheng (大稻埕), one of Taipei’s premier international shopping districts, one sees streams of cheerful shoppers, vibrant merchandise and colorful signboards and one can easily imagine the hustle and bustle of the city. region at the beginning of the 20th century.

Dadaocheng embraced international trade early on and instantly became a hub for business activities, attracting the trendiest stores and products, as well as intellectuals who embraced progressive thinking.

This image is well captured in Kuo Hsueh-hu (郭雪 æ¹–) 1930’s iconic work, “Festival on South Street”, (南街 æ®· 賑) which is one of Taiwan’s most famous pieces and the resistance coin of the current exhibition, “Worldward: The Transformative Force of Arts in Taiwan’s New Cultural Movement” at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM).

“Kuo has vividly reproduced the prosperity and diversity of Dadaocheng,” said Sharleen Yu (余思穎), head of the exhibitions department at TFAM and curator of the exhibition.

Dadaocheng was known as a place where progressive intellectuals gathered. A painting of this region “is not only a reflection but also an anticipation of Taiwan’s progress at the time,” she said.

A golden age of Taiwanese art

Although Japan took control of Taiwan from Qing Dynasty China through the Shimonoseki Treaty of 1895, social and cultural progress became synonymous with Taiwanese intellectuals during Japanese rule.

In 1921, the Taiwan Cultural Association (TCA) was founded in Taipei by a group of Taiwanese intellectuals, who advocated for the participation of Taiwanese in the political process from which they were largely excluded, and introduced the New Cultural Movement.

The movement spawned the first generation of Taiwanese artists to create art with strong Taiwanese characteristics and won art competitions. “They have proven their superiority over their ruling class counterparts, a way to fight for recognition and equality,” Yu said.

The TFAM exhibition, with more than 100 works of art by 37 artists from the 1920s to the 1940s, is dedicated to commemorating the centenary of the movement, which ushered in a golden age of Taiwanese art, including the impact reverberated throughout the century. .

The exhibition is divided into five themes, “Japanese Painters / Educators in Taiwan”, “Taiwanese Art and Artist Competitions”, “Modernity and Local Color”, “Images of the Modern Woman” and “The Rise of Photography”, spread over seven galleries, each with its own surprises.

Rarely exhibited masterpiece

Kuo’s exuberant and eye-catching “Festival on South Street”, 1.88 meters long and hanging in the center of the gallery, brought to life a bustling and crowded scene in front of the god temple of Xia Hai city in Taipei during the ghost festival. .

The painting, which won an award at the Second Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition (Taiten) in 1928 and catapulted Kuo to fame, accurately portrays the diversity of Taiwanese culture, as evidenced by its colorful panels written in Chinese and Japanese characters and painted with native motifs, as well as goods from Taiwan, China and Japan, which can be seen in the lower part.

What makes the painting so spellbinding is that it includes people from different walks of life, ensuring that anyone can easily relate to the work, Yu said.

It is also the first time in six years that the painting has been shown in public.

“Gouache painting on a silk roller is brittle and must be kept at a certain temperature and humidity, which prevents it from being exposed too often,” Yu explained.

The local color of Taiwan and the unspoken

In the “Modernity and Local Color” section, a highlight is the Chen-Jen (真人 廟) temple by Chen Chih-chi (真人 廟), which won a special award at the 4th Taiten. It depicts an ordinary, slightly dilapidated temple of the same name, eclipsing a white Western-style building next to it.

The painter specified the name of the temple for a reason. The painting was completed in 1930, the year when the Taiwanese People’s Party (台灣 民眾 黨), officially the first political party in Taiwan, moved its headquarters next to the temple, which therefore became a symbol of the Taiwanese people, according to the museum. The party was banned in 1931.

Involved in the TCA, dissolved in 1927, and the party founded afterwards, Chen, who died at the age of 25, expressed his concern and passion for politics by implicitly incorporating objects containing hidden messages, such as one saw him commonly during a time of political oppression, Yu said.

Although saturated with political undertones, the painting is also rich in color and its depiction of light and shadow. The sky above the temple is a shimmering indigo, contrasting with the brick red roof covered with a layer of golden color.

“The local color of Taiwan is reflected by the strong sunlight, making it bold and bright, with remarkable contrast,” said Yu, referring to Matsubayashi Keigetsu, a Japanese juror from the Second Taiten, who previously spoke about his expectations for Taiwanese painting – creating art with distinctive Taiwanese color and energy.

This delicate depiction of sunlight and shadow can also be seen in Liao Chi-chun (廖繼春) 1928 work, Courtyard with Banana Trees (有 香蕉樹 的 院子), which is included in the exhibition . The difference in light between the front and back of the leaves, as well as the shadow they cast on the ground, charms viewers.

“I want to do justice to the local characteristics of southern Taiwan,” Liao once said.

New images of freed women

The final section of the exhibition is devoted to the image of the modern woman, in which the depiction of women by Chen Chin (陳 進) greets viewers with exquisite lines and warm colors, presenting a new image of liberation. women.

Women’s liberation was one of the goals of the New Cultural movement.

“With more education for women and the abolition of bandaged feet, the shape and fashion of women’s body has changed with respect to more exercise and activity,” Yu said.

As the times changed, Chen Chin, the first Taiwanese artist to study in Japan, focused on elegant upper-class women dressed in newly designed clothes and engaging in high-level recreational activities or outdoors.

Her 1934 work, Out in the Fields (野 é‚Š), depicts a woman in a traditional Taiwanese-style shirt and a Japanese geta hanging out with her children. The woman’s complexion is serene and sophisticated, surrounded by blooming flowers and emerald-colored bushes, all painted with exquisite lines and soft colors, exuding a refreshing quality.

As the first female Taiwanese painter to be nominated for the Imperial Japanese Art Exhibition, the country’s most prestigious art event at the time, Chen once said, “I am Taiwanese. I want to paint good works in Taiwanese style. the important thing is to be better than the Japanese. “

In search of Taiwan’s identity

It is unlikely that the people of this period ever believed that a movement that called for political participation and equality would end up catalyzing and accelerating the modernization of Taiwanese art. These artists not only proved their worth as world-class artists, but also started a great era that still has an impact on today’s art scene.

“These artists had a strong sense of mission,” Yu said. “Their works remind us of how much they paved the way for the search and establishment of Taiwanese identity.”

“We are not only blown away by their skills, but also made to think about what they tried to leave us 100 years ago, and continue with it in the future,” said Yu.

“Worldward: The Transformative Force of Arts in Taiwan’s New Cultural Movement” will be presented at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum from October 2 to November 28.

Final element / AW

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