Kicking off with an opening reception last Friday, “A Good Beginning, Here” is on display until February 16, and features more than 20 works of art in an array of styles, approaches and mediums.
Individually and as an overall exhibition, the pieces embody the stories of people and ideas rooted in the East and evolved in the West.
Some of the artists use traditional art techniques of their heritage and weave in fresh cultural elements they have encountered during the migrant experience. Others use their work as a space to explore the dialogue between their home and the place they have settled.
One of the artists spotlighted is Stephanie S. Lee, who is based in New York and currently works at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College. Lee is a Korean-American artist and curator, specializing in Korean folk art painting (called Minhwa), which she studied at Busan National University in South Korea.
“I was drawn to the good energy that Minhwa contains,” says Lee. “Besides its humor, satire and bright colors, the painting communicates one's good wishes to others.”
Minhwa developed from paintings often done by anonymous craftsmen depicting figures from mythology and legends, as well as symbols of happiness, wealth, health and good fortune.
They were believed to possess powers to protect the owners from evil forces. Minhwa is the art of the common people, used as decoration in homes and given as gifts to spread these virtues to friends and neighbors.
“I think it is important that we all live harmoniously with each other,” Lee explains, “And this kind of direction to care about others with good intention matters, especially in times like nowadays.”
Two of Lee’s paintings “Tiger Awaiting Fortune under a Pine Tree” and “Affluence I, II, III & IV,” appear in the Lunar New Year exhibition at Flushing Town Hall.
Heavily influenced by the Korean folk tradition, her works juxtapose luxurious modern objects with customary settings to represent an unchanging human desire for fulfillment.
“People in modern days often seem to confuse the pursuit of happiness with materialistic desire,” says the artist. “But I believe that the substance of life is seeking one’s happiness.”
Lee doesn’t search to criticize materialism, but rather to bring awareness to what we really seek in life beyond the material, an idea that draws a connection from her own experience moving to New York.
She believes that the life journey of a human being is the interaction between one’s everlasting desire and one’s environment.
“While material objects and their appearances may have changed over time,” she continues, “immortal passions like wealth, health, beauty, knowledge, and accumulation of fame, have never withered. On a smaller scale, I've immigrated from East to West, but what I'm seeking in my life is not different from then compared to now.”
In tandem with “A Good Beginning, Here,” Lee will lead a Minhwa workshop called “Tiger & Magpie: Good Luck Painting from Korea” on February 9.
During the Joseon Dynasty in Korea, the New Year’s tradition of hanging a Tiger and Magpie painting on the doorways of homes began. The tiger was believed to guard households from bad spirits, while the magpie would bring in good news.
At the workshop, participants will learn about this history before using Asian brushes to color their own Tiger and Magpie compositions, printed on mulberry paper.
Lee uses the motif in one of her paintings from the exhibit, and she hopes the hands-on experience will provide viewers with another entry point for understanding and enjoying the exhibition, even if they don’t celebrate the Lunar New Year themselves.
For those who do celebrate, the Lunar New Year is a time for friends and family to gather in celebration and mark the turning of seasons from bleak, bitter winter to eventual spring, which signifies the emergence of new life.
“The Lunar New Year approaches me as a second chance to reset and restart,” says Lee. “Since I don't have a large family here, and it's just me, my husband and my daughter, the celebration is not as lively and crowded as it should be. But it's still a good time to relax and eat delicious food.”
The Year of the Rat begins on January 25, and in addition to the exhibition Flushing Town Hall is ringing in the festivities with two musical performances.
On January 26, the Zhou Family Band will play traditional wind and percussion music that has accompanied birth and death rituals of the people of Central-Eastern China for more than 600 years.
And on February 21, Latin Grammy-winning violinist Sita Chay of New York and provocative percussionist Jihye Kim of London will take the stage in “SaaWee’s New Ritual.” The show will incorporate Korean shaman rhythm, Korean mask dancing and contemporary languages created through violin.
A returning season highlight is the Lunar New Year Chinese Temple Bazaar on February 1, intended to be reminiscent of the temple fairs included in Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations for centuries. The event will feature live performances, family activities, and food.