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Feelings in art.

ABOUT STORYTELLER FIGURINES

In 1957, in the Eastern Sichuan province of China, a small figurine, measuring 56 centimeters, was excavated from an ancient tomb. Dated to 25-220 B.C., this Han dynasty sculpture represents what is known as a "telling and singing figurine," or a "storyteller figurine."

While the ancient Egyptian belief in the afterlife is well documented, the ancient Chinese were also believers in not only life after death, but in outfitting their tombs to provide many of the comforts and pleasures that the deceased enjoyed during life.

The 1957 figurine was one of many objects designed to provide pleasure, or a representation of such pleasure, to the entombed. Storytelling, as a popular form of entertainment, was one such pleasure people wanted to hold onto through eternity. This month's Art Print features a similar figurine to the 1957 Sichuan example.

"Storytelling in China is a time-honoured art. Some prefer to see the earliest evidence of this art in the so-called 'telling and singing' statuettes, excavated from Western Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 25) tombs. These wooden or clay figurines look like male entertainers of a sort, with lively gestures and a face full of humour, sometimes with a drum in one hand. What kind of entertaining they represent, and how far they may be compared to the professional storytellers in China a millennium later, is a nebulous question." (www.shuoshu. org)

The tradition of storytelling is China continues to this day, although many regional modes of the art form are in danger of disappearing forever. In 2011, a United Nations committee placed Hezhen Yimakan storytelling on the U.N. List of Intangible Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. At the time only five storytellers capable of performing this ancient oral tradition were believed to exist.

ABOUT THE ARTWORK

There is an ancient Chinese saying that says: "The storyteller only relies on his three inch-long tongue, and yet he is able to show us what is superficial in this world and where we find the deep ground. "

This month's Art Print, a small funerary object from the Han dynasty (2016 B.C.-A.D. 220), depicts a storyteller (or possibly a jester/actor) performing. His joyful expression, as evidenced by his wide smile and creased brow, conveys a liveliness that is infectious. Although the following description from the National Museum of China's website is of a similar sculpture, it could also describe the work here: "This is a joyous piece, filled with humour and a spirit, bringing to life a performing artist of 2,000 years ago. We can see him as an ancestor of today's performers. This figurine tells us that storytelling thrived in the Han period and that sculptural art had reached a comparatively high level."

As is the case with most Chinese funerary objects of this period, the piece is molded and formed from red clay. To meet the consumer demand for such pieces (in addition to entertainment-related figures, people would commission sculptural objects such as horses, ox-carts, figures of soldiers and attendants, and container vessels to adorn their tombs), potters would create a mold for the basic shape and hand-form the more intricate elements, such as the stick held in the figure's right hand. Hundreds such terracotta figures could be placed in a tomb.

Within the many chambers of the tomb, figurines of entertainers would be placed in a open space, representing the public space in which a living storyteller would perform.
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Title Annotation:A&A ART PRINT NOTES
Author:Carroll, Colleen
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 24, 2015
Words:575
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