Monday, December 17, 2012

Less Skull, More Lion (Shanghai minority gallery)

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: doesn't raise one's faith in humanity, but definitely the best part of this week's Monday...In other words, if you don't have something nice to say, it's time to post some pictures.* 

*Hmm, that really sounds like an intro to internet blackmail//online shame and humiliation, doesn't it? Sorry to disappoint. I've got the goods on exactly: no one.

In lieu of that, let's take the escalator to the third floor of the Shanghai Museum. You almost missed the National Minority gallery, you barely looked at the map! And now you're tired, are too lazy to take notes on the (scanty) placards, and damn if your picture taking skills are falling short. But look! Welcomed with a dragon! How could you resist its lure?
If you are sensible, you can not. And look, birds alight on its brightly lacquered, noble snout.

The main gallery is lined with mannequins in native traditional/ceremonial dress. Tibetan, Mongolian, from far reaches; I tended to think that the flip side of such gorgeously intricate robes were rather difficult existences, or at the very least, lives lived amidst battering elements. For the garments which were not donned for specific rituals, how many days, weeks did one inhabit them? Some garments looked to easily add 20 pounds to the wearer. Still, hard not to romanticize the people from these museum artifacts: walking through halls to the tinkling of myriad silver cones dangling down your front; beaded strands dangling from the crown of your head to your waist; the common white four-holed button, appropriated for much snazzier fare.

More photos here.
The room to the right of the gallery entrance is a wall of deity masks for cham dances in Tibet and elsewhere. Though not blue or many limbed, they call Kali to mind, with their ferocious gaze and crowns of skulls. I am easily drawn to the morbid anyway, so they suck me right in.

A guard approaches me. As with most museums, guards are everywhere. These however, I couldn't help noting, did not stop people from touching the sculptures in the sculpture gallery, which just about gave me a conniption. Most did not speak English, so I couldn't get the nice little asides from them that I am used to.

He eyed me and tapped the glass: "BYOOO-ti-ful." He nodded.

"Scary!" I said, "but yes, Beauutiful."
"BYOOO-ti-ful," he intoned and tapped again. He told me something doubtlessly edifying and completely unintelligible to me. I nodded. "Very. Old." He added. We nodded.  I found it interesting that he enthused about beauty before the grimmest, most ghastly pieces in the place, rather than strolling over to a ceremonial garment to intone the same thing. Was he testing the tourists? Challenging us to protest or grimace? Was he perversely setting up an "If I say the sun is the moon, it is the moon" beholder scenario? Or did he feel protective of the misunderstood beasties, with their gilding and their power?

Traditionally, deity masks like the ones above would be stored with their eyes covered, until a monk or lama chanted or prayed over it, prior to a ceremony. Makes sense to me. They seem just a bit to powerful to be just hanging around. Though clearly museum glass is created with all kinds of barriers in mind...

More photos from the gallery here.

And much more exciting -- process shots from Travel Lust, of monks preparing for a cham dance, in Ladakh, India. Plus even more great shots, from the same source!

I was initially googling cham dance videos, but wasn't so happy with the results I was finding. HowEVER, as you are sooooo aware, it's like a field of flowers, the farther from the path you go, the prettier the blossoms. To wit, don't pass up the Tibetan snow lion dance!  Based on this, I'm thinking Tibet figure in Barkely's heritage. The things you learn. Ayyyyand last stop on the random train, we have this. Who has Joi Ying Lion Dancers at their wedding? Darren & Tracey! Aside from a few cheers and claps, the banquet goers are disappointingly unastounded. Half a dozen metallic red and purple shaggy lions have entered your midst, people! Jaunty backsides, waggling tails, leaping and unfurling gold and red banners, as only the most literate of luck bringing/wealth bestowing lions will! Can't imagine how much money they would cost, but really, dancing lions would be *the thing to have*, to usher in an exciting life of connubial bliss. Am I right or am I Right??


  1. What fantastic pics! I could have spent all day staring at these cases. Love the skulls. (But as much as I could stare all day, I'm not sure how much money it would take for me to try to spend the night there. Lots, I suspect, and I wouldn't get a wink of sleep.)

  2. Thanks, Jennifer! Sadly, I didn't really do it all justice, but at least you get snippets. Yeah, there's no way I'd spend the night...I hope the two of you are doing something holidayish...or at least drinking that eggnog. Compatriot said this past week, "I realize without your tree trimming party, I won't get my eggnog fix..." I may have to create a gathering (almost) solely so we can do the nog ;)