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Ghosts and Hells: The underworld in Asian art

DURATION: 2022-06-25 ~ 2022-10-16
VENUE: Tainan Art Museum
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Exhibited Artworks & Videos


Ghosts And Hells: The underworld in Asian art was presented by the musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac in 2018, featuring traditional artifacts, artworks, and latest pop cultural works. The exhibition takes an insightful look at fears and imaginations of the unknown world in Asia over the centuries. Through Julien Rousseau, curator of the Asian Collections at the musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, visitors in Taiwan can rethink their cultural experiences from a new perspective.

In both the Western and Eastern worlds, ghosts are considered to be the strong consciousness of human beings that remains after death. They are compounds without a solid form, and spirits that cannot be killed again. In Asia and Eastern worlds, ghost legends and paranormal stories have been passed down through oral traditions, literary accounts and works, theatrical performances and film adaptations. These works reinforce the natural power of spirits and deepen the eerie atmosphere. While in Asia, ghosts go beyond the morality and framework of religious art. The imagery and functionality of ghosts are constructed in more secular forms of pop culture and storytelling. Performing arts, cartoon and comics, and films have largely decontextualized Asian spirits and ghosts from their intangible consciousness, forming a concrete fantastical world of ghosts and spirits. For instance, Japanese ghosts have reversed their original meaning, while ghosts in contemporary works are increasingly anthropomorphic, possessing human thoughts and emotions, and can decide between right and wrong.

The Taiwanese perspectives is integrated into the Taiwan edition of this exhibition. In addition to the influence of Asian Buddhist and Taoist cultures on hells and ghosts, during the Japanese rule, the image of ghosts was influenced by Japanese culture. The intervention of Japanese aesthetics explains the female ghosts with long hair and white robes and the well-liked phenomena of the monster village in Nantou. Through the transformation of folk beliefs, legends and literary works have shaped the image of Taiwan’s native ghosts and monsters, such as the tiger woman who eats children’s fingers and spirits that tagging along passer-by in forests and mountains (Mô͘-sîn-á). Many ghosts and monsters were born to symbolize historical incidents and serve as a reminder. Indeed, most of the ghosts and monsters are figurative images of people’s fear of the unknown. It is as if by creating a figure to symbolize these negative emotions, people may find ways to eliminate or avoid them. As human cannot detach from the cycle of life and death, ghosts and monsters are a reminder of the dead and a comfort to the living. The legends of ghosts and monsters also reveal the lifestyle and valuable culture of the past.

The Taiwan edition of the exhibition aims to respond to the narrative of the edition at the musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac and to include works by Taiwan’s contemporary artists and film posters of local ghost and monsters. The exhibition features artists including Lin Yi-chi, Hou Chun-ting, Yao Jui-chung, Chang Ki-ya, Liang Ting-yu, Chen Zi-fu, Chen Yun, Huang Chien-lun, Tsai Charwei, Xuejia Ciji Temple, Shao Ching-wang, and Yan Chung-hsien. The exhibition aims to respond to the temple culture and legends of Tainan and to provide a richer knowledge of ghosts and monsters from the local perspective.