(By Mercedes Ezquiaga) With much more space and a new curatorial script aimed at reflecting on what we understand by the Orient, the National Museum of Oriental Art -which operated in the Errázuriz Palace- finally finds its permanent headquarters and is preparing to open its doors to the public on December 8, on the second floor of the Borges Cultural Center, with free admission.
“Oriente Todo” is the title of the new main exhibition of the museum, this time displayed over a thousand square meters, where the highlights of the collection are included -vases, chests, ukiyo e prints, deities, katanas, carvings and ancient costumes- in addition to a second temporary exhibition, “Tracing glimpses of an Orient”, which brings together works by Alli Chen and Johanna Wilhelm, curated by Viviana Usubiaga.
The reopening means a revenge for this museum founded in 1965, which after being closed to the public for 18 years, reopened in September 2019 in a motley first floor of the Errázuriz Alvear Palace, where it immediately had to lower the blind again, although this last time due to the pandemic.
There are almost 200 works in total that are exhibited in the new renovated space of the Oriental, although the heritage – paintings, sculptures, engravings, everyday objects, cult objects, clothing, musical instruments, toys, photographs and furniture from different oriental cultures – is made up of more than 4,000 original pieces from China, Japan, Korea, India, Egypt, Turkey, Armenia, the ancient Persian empire, Tibet, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and other countries.
What do we think of when we say Orient? It is one of the questions that threads the tour of the brand new central sample, “a story tied to Western European historiography, which must be discussed and put back on the table how much there is of preconceived discourse. So when we talk about the East we must be clear that we are alluding to a shortcut to say far, but in reality we are no longer further away, these cultures are getting closer”, the Museum director, Rocío Boffo, stated in a dialogue with Télam, in a tour of the space before the opening.
In the Western imaginary, the concept of the Orient would seem to be defined by opposition: it is everything that is not the West, and includes diverse geographies, nations, cultures, practices, and social groups. The attempts to get to know that other were not and are not innocent: they have a political dimension in which the centrality of Europe built a story that was internalized by the rest of the Western world.
So, what are the ideas about the Orient created by our cultural imaginary? At the beginning of the tour, after the welcome given by two replicas of fire dogs, one male and one female, a symbol of protection -a classic at the entrance of Chinatowns into the world- the visitor will find a continuation of films where there are the preconceptions associated with the East: detail, spirituality, sensuality and a great connection with nature.
“This beginning is a collection of what is going to be seen throughout the visit to the museum, a proposal that is not exclusively linked to the collection of objects but rather to the practices of the people in Argentina and the admiration of many communities through practices that come from Asian countries, such as dance, food, calligraphy, poetry, cinema, animation, comics, manga”, lists Boffo during the tour.
The first showcase of the tour is called “The East that we build” where “the readings of the East are superimposed, expanded and compacted -in the words of the director- through one of the broadest means of dissemination that the West has had, photography and cinema- and that has consolidated myths and stereotypes. Try to put into discussion if it really is so”.
Fragments of Kung Fu Panda, Indiana Jones, Austin Powers, Casablanca, The Karate Kid and many other famous audiovisual productions are broadcast as a continuous film, on televisions, behind glass cabinets and accompanied by representative objects of that which the films set between 1950 and 1950 narrate. 1990. An imagery that refers to the sensual, exotic, magical and martial arts.
A doll that exemplifies a traditional Indian dance, with its veils and bells, a lamp like those associated with the genie who grants wishes, a nail guard from an ancient dynasty and a battle helmet from the ancient Persian empire are then some of the objects that receive to the visitor, almost as an affirmation of those widespread stereotypes, “many times very far from the reality of several of these cultures”, details Boffo.
Then, the course expands on those objects brought by immigrants, often loaded with sentimental value, such as instruments or trunks. In this exhibition center the objects have crossed oceans to get here, and sometimes they are family memories but other times they are filtered by the European eye, that is, commissions that sometimes acquire a Western taste.
“There is a huge migrant community throughout Argentina and it has points of contact with many of the things we do on a daily basis. Today one enters any business or store and finds a kitten with a moving hand. This is a Japanese object that we assume Chinese”, exemplifies the director about the Maneki-neko, also known as fortune cat.
An ancient Japanese samurai armor, restored, some ukiyo-e prints (“images of the floating world”), a type of Japanese engraving that is well known especially from its use by impressionists such as Van Gogh, and a katana or saber make up one of the salient points of this itinerary, all behind another of the showcases.
Calligraphies, prints, brushes, scrolls, ceramics, miniature ivory objects, kimonos and some parts of that trousseau thread the tour of the brand new museum. Is the East more spiritual than the West? the director of the museum is questioned to expose another of the nuclei, which alludes to the coexistence of creeds, beliefs, practices and rites always associated with the spiritual: Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto culture, a prayer rug Islamic and some objects, stelae and typical figures of temples, altars and offerings are gathered in this nucleus.
For example, there are some carvings here that come from India, architectural fragments of temples or sacred spaces: a reddish stone relief presents the couple of Shiva and his wife, Parvati. “Together they symbolize deep love,” reads the accompanying caption.
In addition, “the idea of venerating deceased ancestors appears strongly,” Boffo notes.
The sensuality so associated with the East is present in another of the nuclei, through Japanese clothing, such as women’s kimonos and yucatas (which is men’s clothing), fans, turbans, veils, footwear, as well as spices and their aromas. -which can be seen in the room-, because “sensuality is not only associated with the visual image but with all the senses”, he details.
Finally, the presence of nature takes center stage in different objects at the end of the route, where animals or flowers are represented.
“We review our preconceptions to reconstruct new ideas from objects, adding the perspective of contemporary artists and local communities. The National Museum of Oriental Art seeks to disseminate both oriental cultures and contribute to coexistence in the diversity of our societies”, Lucía explains. by Francesco and Anush Katchadjian, curators of the exhibition.
As a corollary to the tour, in the temporary exhibition “Tracing Flashes of an Orient”, the artists Aili Chen and Johanna Wilhelm work with pieces made of paper, paradigmatic material of the imaginaries on oriental arts, proposing a counterpoint with the museum’s permanent collection . While Chen models versions of the objects on paper, Wilhelm evokes the pieces with openwork paper. Thus, both propose an approach to the collection through lights, shadows and sparkles.
“The move to a new, larger and more suitable headquarters for the correct exhibition of the heritage and for the development of public programs for the communities is a fact of profound relevance for our institution and for the Ministry of Culture, after many years in this search “, concludes Rocío Boffo.
The new National Museum of Oriental Art reopens to the public on December 8, at its new headquarters at Viamonte 525, 2nd floor (Borges Cultural Center) and can be visited from Wednesday to Sunday from 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., with free admission. (Telam)