Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival | 14th to 17th of May 2015

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The Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival enters the age of reason

In a Morocco resolutely heading toward a new era and in the heart of a city whose past is laden with history and myths, the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival first saw the light in June 1998. Born from the will of a team passionate about music convinced that culture is an inalienable human right, that dialogue is the path that will lead the world to wisdom, and that the preservation of heritage in all forms is the bedrock of identity, the Festival marks on that basis anoutstanding turning point in the country’s history.

Maâlem renaissance

Being the first popular and free of charge Festival, it opened the way to many other events. From the beginning, it hosted artists from the four corners of the world to be in communion with the Gnaoua musicians guarantors of a precious heritage, the witnesses of the African roots of Morocco, mystics and bearers of an ancestral tradition. Rehabilitating their history and shedding light on their know-how is doubtlessly one of the main rationales of the Festival. On the stage, they’re considered to be fully-fledged artists and finally treated as such they reveal their talent and the magic of the music. Aware of the message the Festival wants to convey, they disclose their secrets to artists hailing from elsewhere for celebration, and also to the public to get to know them better. The hajhoujand the crotals, instruments defining these musicians join together with others from nearby regions or from far away in exceptional harmony bound to deeply affect the public as well as the musicians. Concurrently, specific conferences shed light on their culture and history, and lilas (night celebrations)let night owls discover their intact rituals seemingly oblivious to the constraints of time. Since then numerous maâlems have become ambassadors of Morocco and Africa joining in illustrious festivals and performing on prestigious stages across the world. Better yet, the Festival which immediately emphasized the need for transmission of the know-how allowed them to pass the torch and see the emergence of young bands and artists, perpetuating a long forgotten heritage which was at best turned into folklore on its own land.

Popular success

As for the public, it immediately and totally embraced the Gnaoua and World Music Festival. The Moroccan youth in attendance at the initial editions understood the full scope of the spirit of freedom billowing across the city. The youth would take that spirit along throughout the entire country and disseminate the Gnaoua spirit which would gradually turn into a « way of life». These same young people become therefore more hopeful and believe deeply in a country Morocco which is particularly attentive to their expectations and desirefor freedom.

Over the Festival’s editions, its notoriety has crossed borders and the world is taken by this new African Woodstock. The festival goers and the media of the five continents would stream to discover the hospitality of a country, the generosity of a city while blending into a celebration atmosphere next to none. Once over, they leave the city taking along a bit of Morocco and its rich history testifying to its openness and commend Morocco’s recognition of its African roots. In this respect, the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival is a forerunner. By celebrating Gnaoua and inviting the worthy representatives of African music both modern and traditional to perform together, the Festival pays tribute to an entire continent.

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Eclectic programming

This 18th edition of the Gnaoua and World Music Festival, akin to previous editions, has been nevertheless conceived and organized with the same faith and commitments as in the past. Once again, world musicians will come to join Gnaoua musicians in a spirit of sharing and dialogue. This year again, from solo concerts to fusions, from acoustic evenings at lilas, from meetings to conferences, the programme will stick to the basic rule: quality, authenticity and sharing will be again high on the agenda. Eclectic as they are, the concerts will be built on a balance between Gnaoui, jazz music and new discoveries, in addition to talented artists performing every evening at Moulay Hassan Square which has become theiconic place of the Festival, in one of the city’s mythical venues or on the beach, etc. Les Ambassadeurs, a symbol of the vivacity of African music, a legendary group marking its return to the stage, will perform this year at Essaouira, as a promise made and fulfilled by the Festival, the promise to remain rooted in Africa. The programme of the Annual Forum held in partnership with the National Human Rights Council, will echo such a promise putting emphasis on women entrepreneurs and creators and on the role they play in the social and economic momentum of Africa. The maâlems, in their ever faithful role will be once again both hosts and invited guests. As for the public, we expect it to be joyful, curious and showing interest in new musical experiences just like it always did. In these troubled times, the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival, given the living better together it stands for will resonate as an act of resistance in face of recurring periods of obscurantism and identity-centered closure temptations. Solet’s all attend the Festival in ever bigger numbers…

 

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Buddhist Art of Myanmar: Double-Sided Stele Installation Timelapse

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It arrived in a massive wooden crate, the size of a twin bed — 724 pounds of sandstone dating from the fourth to sixth century CE. This double-sided stele on loan from the National Museum in Yangon, Myanmar, is one of approximately 70 works of art currently on display at Asia Society Museum, New York, in the spring exhibition Buddhist Art of Myanmar.

The stele’s discovery and its significance are best described by the exhibition’s guest curator Donald M. Stadtner and catalogue contributor Robert L. Brown in an essay they co-wrote in theBuddhist Art of Myanmar exhibition catalogue:

Discovered within the walled city of Sri Ksetra in the 1970s, this stele has raised more questions than it has provided answers. . . . The stele cannot be tied directly to Buddhism or Hinduism in as much as there are too few defining attributes; also, no convincing parallels are known in the art of India or Southeast Asia. It has been suggested that the empty throne depicted on one side of the stele is an aniconic reference to the Buddha and that the stele should date to the early centuries BCE. It has also been more plausibly argued that the stele should be dated to about the fourth century and that its iconography highlights the connections between India and early Southeast Asia.

On January 29, 2015, when the stele arrived at Asia Society Museum, a team of art handlers and a giant blue crane were required to help lift it into place. An empty pedestal, flanked by two columns on the second floor gallery landing waited in anticipation for the artwork to be hoisted up and put into place. Within minutes the entire floor turned into a hub of activity. Art handlers donned gloves, museum staff members watched with bated breath, and the cameras began to roll. And so began a carefully orchestrated symphony of sandstone and steel. Three hours of meticulous calculations and precise maneuvers later, the stele was finally in place.

 

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Africa – Masks never die | Why African people must celebrate Carnival all year round

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Photos: Bruno Zanzottera

 

Secret societies, in Africa, represent the traditional society, a kind of parallel authority. They reveal themselves through the masks appearance: every mask has its own meaning, and its appearance brings a clear message to the community members.

“Masks talk. And listen to men and to their eternal thirst for life, their desire to live forever while they know they’re just men. Men in need to dominate their fears and hopes –that’s when they transform themselves in masked man”. In the African traditional society the mask plays a crucial role: it represents the appearance of a spirit coming from the forest or the savanna to rule men’s actions, to scare people or entertain them, to impose peace or instigate war, celebrate funerals or initiation rituals. In the whole Africa the word ‘mask’ doesn’t indicate just what’s covering the face of the man but it means incarnate spirit, present spirit. The mask wearer loose his individual identity to transform himself in something else. The mask wearer may die, the mask not: “A man may leave me (die), and he will be replaced. But a mask will never die. You’ll never see a mask’s grave. We’re above men”.

In African’s masks world the magnificient, spectacular side is important but the social aspect is fundamental, defining the mask as the connection between men’s world and the supernatural one – a world always present in African society, in every action of every single person. The mask becomes a regulator of what’s happening in the community, something you must fear. For example, in the city of Bobo Dioulasso, in Burkina Faso, there are places where masks make dance performances and are controlled by griots (the musician leading the dance), while in other parts of the town the masks get out of human control and terrify people with whips and sticks. At the same time, the show off and the dance of the masks become a great, collective theather performance, with people chasing and challenging the masks to dispel their fear of the spirits world.

 

NEW YORK: BUDDHIST ART OF MYANMAR

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Buddhist Art of Myanmar is the first exhibition in the West focusing on works of art from collections in Myanmar. The exhibition comprises approximately 70 spectacular works—including stone, bronze and wood sculptures, textiles, paintings, and lacquer ritual implements—from the fifth through the early twentieth century. Artworks include objects created for temples, monasteries, and personal devotion, which are presented in their historical and ritual contexts. The exhibition explores how Buddhist narratives were communicated visually and the multiplicity of regional styles. Many of the works in the exhibition have never been shown outside of Myanmar. Works are on loan from the National Museum of Myanmar in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw; Bagan Archeological Museum; Sri Ksetra Archaeological Museum, Hmawza; and the Kaba Aye Buddhist Museum, as well as works from public and private collections in the United States.

Myanmar, also officially known in the English language as “Burma” from the period of British control until 1989, is one of the most ethnically diverse countries on earth. Today the nation is home to over one hundred officially recognized ethnic groups, each with its own distinctive way of life, language, and adherence to a variety of belief systems. Although nearly ninety percent of Myanmar’s inhabitants count themselves as Buddhists, the country also is home to many Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and animists.

Buddhism was established in Myanmar around 500 CE or the middle of the first millennium, centuries after the Buddha’s demise in India. The faith was likely brought to Myanmar by Indian monks and traders during their interactions with local kingdoms. Lower Myanmar was then in the hands of the Mon, while Upper Myanmar was ruled by the Pyu. These two major ethnic groups were eclipsed by Bamar-speaking peoples who had begun to filter into Upper Myanmar by the beginning of the second millennium. The Bamar created their capital overlooking the Irrawaddy River at Pagan, or Bagan, where a frenzy of Buddhist devotion resulted in the construction of over two thousand brick temples, stupas, and monasteries. While Pagan’s art owed a strong and undeniable debt to eastern India, its sculptors, painters, and architects forged a distinctive aesthetic, which in later centuries diverged completely from Indian modes.

Buddhist legends developed locally in Myanmar, reflecting indigenous interpretations of Buddhist texts brought from South Asia. A number of Myanmar’s oldest Buddhist stories describe the Buddha’s visits to the kingdoms of Myanmar. In these tales, the Buddha bestows hair relics and presses the soles of his feet into stone to create what are known as living relics, which have remained under continuous worship in Myanmar. In fact, the Buddha never ventured beyond India, but the relics of the stories were enshrined in many of Myanmar’s temples and stupas along with sculptures and objects commissioned by donors. The objects forming this exhibition, formerly in the service of temples, stupas, and monasteries, embody an enduring tradition in which myth and history blend seamlessly.

Sylvia Fraser-Lu, Guest Curator
Donald Stadtner, Guest Curator
Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Senior Curator for Traditional Asian Art

 

Asia Society and Museum

725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street)
New York, NY 10021
Tel: 212-288-6400
Fax: 212-517-8315

Box Office:
Phone: 212-517-ASIA
Web: www.asiasociety.org

 

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World – Out of Tibet

 

Photos: Albertina d’Urso

Before the Chinese occupation in 1949-50, Tibetans where estimated to be up to 6 million. Now in their original land live around 4.5 million people only. One million have been killed or died due to torture or starvation during the Chinese invasion, while the rest (the official number is 150.000, but they are supposed to be more) live as political refugees, scattered all around the world. This work mainly focuses on the exiled Tibetans across the world, on their lives and their stories, following on the steps of the Tibetans who had to run away from their homeland. Most of them had to cross the Himalayan range on foot in order to defend their cultural and religious identity, their traditions and their language from Chinese repression.

The port of arrival of the thousands of Tibetans who every year risk their lives crossing the border illegally, is Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile and Dalai Lama’s place of residence. Some refugees stop here, others move on to the South of India or to Nepal, while others go to Europe or America to begin a new life, adapting themselves to the new situations but always holding onto their traditions. No matter the place they end up, Tibetan refugees always keep alive what the Chinese government is killing in their homeland.

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This project took around 10 years to complete. Through the years the photographer has been shooting Tibetan refugees in several areas of India (Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Ladakh, Bodhgaya), Nepal, Taiwan, New York, London, Paris, Zurich, Rome, Brussels, Amsterdam and Toronto, documenting their activities, culture and traditions in the country where they now live, trying to describe their new lives in their new homes and private moments, always focusing on their emotions and attachment to their homeland.

Out of Tibet’s goal is to rejoin visually all the Tibetans in exile who are now displaced all around the world, living in a limbo, suspended between the place which they belong to and have left and the place where they are at now. Their world revolves today around a unique de facto state, a prime minister (just elected) and a government which no country in the world recognizes. They have an official language and their own medicine, symbols, calendar, and above all – they have a strong spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, which , by the way, has given his personal blessing to this project.

Santa Fe Winter Indian Market | November 29-30 2014

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Winter Indian Market

The 9th Annual Winter Indian Market® will be held Thanksgiving weekend, November 29-30, 2014 at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A smaller, more intimate version of summer Santa Fe Indian Market®–an event that attracts 150,000 visitors to Santa Fe each August–Winter Indian Market® is held during Santa Fe’s magical winter season. Winter Indian Market® gives visitors an opportunity to spend time interacting with their favorite artists and the opportunity to discover new ones.

Saturday, November 29, 9am to 5pm and Sunday, November 30, 10am to 5pm
Admission is $10 per day. $15 for a weekend pass. Members and children (12 and under) are free. Tickets are available at the door.

This year’s show includes:

  • 200+ Native artists from the US and Canada
  • Silent auction including artwork donated by SWAIA artists and fabulous items from local businesses
  • Festival of Trees reception and benefit auction Sat, November 29, 5-7pm
  • Live Entertainment
  • Gift Wrapping Booth
  • Children’s Activities

 

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Festival of Trees Benefit

Introducing Winter Indian Market® 2014 Festival of Trees.

Donate a tree to the Festival of Trees during Winter Indian Market, Santa Fe Community Convention Center, November 29-30, 2014.

Trees will be auctioned during the weekend. There will be awards for
Best Traditional
Best Theme
Artists’ Choice (WIM 2014 artists will vote to select their favorite tree)

Tree Donors will supply
Lighted, 4′ – 8′ tall, artificial tree and stand
All decorations
Logo and artwork for ads, promotions

SWAIA will supply
Signage for tree with name and logo of donor
Volunteers to decorate tree (if requested)
Social and print media promotion of tree donors
List of tree donors in WIM 2014 program
50% reduced rate for ad in WIM2014 program

There will be an option for tree donors to buy back their own tree for a cash donation to SWAIA.

Trees must be delivered to the Santa Fe Convention Center on Wednesday, November 27th between 1-5pm for set up.

All proceeds from the Festival of Trees benefit the Southwest Association for Indian Arts / Santa Fe Indian Market, a 501 c3 tax exempt organization. Tree donations and tree purchases are tax deductible.

All events will take place at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, 201 W. Marcy St. Santa Fe, NM 87501

Stay tuned for more details about the participating artists, performances and special events happening around and during Winter Indian Market® 2014.

 

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REST YE MERRY – The iconography of the skull and the Day of the Dead

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The skull, a recurring motif in the classical iconography of many cultures, is definetly a most controversial one.

If at first glance it may seem to express a negative value of Death, in folk
traditions  of Tibet, Ladakh, India, South America (although in a more complex
environment: suffice it to think of the Day of the Dead in Mexico), as well as
in Celtic culture, it has a very positive meaning.
In Eastern cultures it is seen as the representation of knowledge, the wisdom
of the ancestors eager to heal their people. In Tibet, where it is especially
popular, it is considered the emblem of the transience of life, a picture of
what was and what is, of the existence it contained and which it represents.

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Personification of impermanence, the skull represents the experience of death
and the desire to defeat it, its inevitability, the need to live life fully
practicing compassion, and finally leads to the understanding of the
limitations of human knowledge. In Buddhist rosaries, skulls help to sense the
meaning of life and death during prayer and meditation.

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The concept of acceptance of the earthly end is what lies at the base of the
famous Mexican holiday El Dia de los Muertos, a ritual involving the
populations of the mountain plateaus of the center and south of the country,
particularly in Oaxaca, where the skulls, called Calaveras, are depicted in
every possible variant, from paintings to jewelery, typical for this occasion,
to colorful sugar sweets.

This solemnity is deeply felt, and the local population participates in mass;
it mocks and makes fun of death, and the skulls act as a link between the
living and the deceased loved ones; passing away is a necessary, unavoidable
and inescapable part of human existence, and this ritual is meant to honor the
continuity and persistence of life.

In this regard, it is interesting and pleasant to read the short text that
follows, testimony of Paola Guajardo, a Mexican who lives in China, who recalls
and confirms the participation of her people in this extraordinary celebration.

“They have to face a long journey in order to reach the place of the Gods”,
Paola Guajardo says, admiring a shiny skull-shaped sugar sweet. These delights
are for Leonora Carrington, a surrealist painter who died in May 2011, and
Paola and is putting the finishing touches to an altar of the Day of the Dead
in her honor at the Mexican Embassy in Beijing.

To guide the artist along the way to her next life, rows of candles flickers
on the various shelves of the altar, already inflamed by orange crepe paper,
the traditional color of mourning for the Mexicans.

“We can not get those flowers here,” says Guajardo, referring to the bright
orange marigolds that are used on such occasions since the time of the Aztecs.

When the Spanish arrived in the Yucatan Peninsula, they ran into a festival of
Midsummer dedicated to children and the dead, celebrated with fire and incense,
costumes in animal skins, images of the dead and offerings of their personal
items, favorite foods, drinks and flowers.

In a not particularly successful attempt to christianize the event, the
conquerors moved the festivity on November 2, All Saints’ Day, which still
falls today.

While the Mexican tradition seems to resemble the Chinese Tomb Sweeping Day,
the atmosphere is different, says Paola, whose husband Jorge is the Mexican
ambassador in China.

“El Dia de los Muertos is a day dedicated not so much to mourn, but to
celebrate and accept death with irony and humor,” she reveals.

Vigils in cemeteries are flooded by native marigolds, giving the festival a
touch of Halloween, a festivity with which it shares the period and  the
relation to the theme of death. Such irreverent attitude can be shocking to the
Chinese, who instead have a very solemn approach towards rituals in honor of
their ancestors: for them, in fact, this day is dedicated to the worship of
ancestors, called Qing Ming Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day, because on this
occasion families visit the tombs of loved ones, cleaning them well and
embellishing them with flowers, and afterwards consuming food and fruits over
the swept graves.

The traditional festivity of the Day of the Dead was declared “an untouchable
cultural heritage of humanity” by UNESCO in 2003 and registered in the
Representative List in 2008.

For four years, Paola has created altars for several deceased celebrities and
admits she has a certain affinity with the artists: last year the honor went to
Frida Kahlo. Although taking advantage of this occasion to share a slice of her
culture with the Chinese community in Beijing, for her it was actually a real
journey full of discoveries: as a native of northern Mexico, she did not grow
up with that kind of traditions, typical of other regions.

Carrington, on the other hand, would have probably appreciated an altar dotted
with sugar skulls and humor of such a personal nature.

Man’s desire to overcome death is precisely shown in the mockery of it, and
the best way to express this concept is to use one of death’s symbols, the
skull, to exorcise it and to praise life, its completeness and extension.

Further north, namely between the Celts, the skull takes on articulated and
composite meanings : it is seen as the source of power, the essence and the
abode of the soul and of the human being; therefore is considered an emblem of
authority, divinity and creation, source of intelligence, spirit and origin of
life itself.

Used in rituals and sacrifices, skulls were also found at the bottom of holy
wells, where they probably were thrown to purify deep waters, and are therefore
related to the symbolism of purification of the soul and its renewal. Intended
also as warnings, it was believed they could eliminate any kind of illness and
negative influence, and that wearing them would ensure well-being and
protection, as tutelary deities protectors of men.

In more ancient times they played the role of war trophies, related to the
death of an enemy and the acquisition of his characteristics and valor.

The skull, therefore, in all cultures and traditions, with many variations and
peculiarities, embodies a collective meaning: man’s awareness of the
inevitability of death, but at the same time, the ambition to be able to submit
it using allegories that represent death itself.

Mongolia – Transmongolian

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The Secret History of the Mongols, the oldest literary work written in the Mongolian language, tells how Gengis Khan was able to put under his control more than 30 fighting tribes, and how, once in power, he declared homosexuality immediately illegal in order to attempt to increase the population of his new empire. Today, more than 800 years later, Mongolia is an independent country with the lowest population rate in the world: less than two inhabitants per square kilometer. And being a homosexual, in Gengis Khan land, continues to be the strongest taboo.
Modern Mongolia is now one of the fastest growing economies in Asia. Once a nomadic based society, its new structure is changing rapidly, shifting from small villages daily life into big cities model, thanks to its almost unlimited natural resources. The modern impact of Ulaanbataar does not have much in common with what everyone visiting Mongolia expects from the country. Crowded streets, luxury shops, tourism, and a growing and fascinating (but secret) LGBT community, is far from what we have in mind today. It is curious though to recall that Transsexualism has solid roots inside the Mongolian shamanic traditional culture: they were respected people. The Shamans had a special status inside the nomadic community: they would connect the spiritual world to the human world; but transgenders were even considered special people, blessed with the power of “two spirits”.
During the years of the Soviet Union, a time in which homosexuals were sent to Gulag just for being themselves, the country was a hell for gays, lesbians, and transexuals, who continued to be prosecuted, rejected, and victimized. But nowadays some of them do not want to hide anymore and prefer to take their risk embracing the freedom which urbanization is bringing to Mongolia.
Photos: Alvaro Laiz

Tibetan Jewelry

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In Tibet, as in all countries where jewels have not only an aesthetic function but a symbolic and

apotropaic value, jewelry accumulate on clothes.

Most of the jewelry is in fact made with symbolic stones and organic elements, both selected for

their protective, miraculous and religious powers.

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Therefore amulets and pendants are often reliquaries that contain spells, incantations and prayers.

The reliquary pendants may have various forms: round, square, oval or mandala, made of gold,

silver or copper. In order to increase their value, the surface is often densely embellished with

symbolic decorations, engraved or embossed.

 

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Jewels in Tibet represent a strong status symbol and, for this reason, the caste of officials, nobles

and wealthy families are willing to pay large sums to wear them and to let their women wear them.

With the exception of the period of government of the XIII Dalai Lama (1929-1933), which had

imposed strict rules and expenditure restrictions regarding jewelry, since ancient times to lay

Tibetans wearing jewelry was not only a pleasure, but also a moral and institutional duty, which

included ridicule and sometimes even the imposition of sanctions for the non-compliants.

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Necklaces can have really impressive sizes with large gems including amber, coral, turquoise and

white and black agate.

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Black agate is the material of which beads called Dzi are made, with characteristic patterns in

black and white that, depending on the shape that they create, assume a precise meaning and

value. The term Dzi in Tibetan is associated with light and brilliance (the semantic root is ancient

and shared by many peoples, for example, is the same of our word for light, but also of the term

god, Caesar and Czar). These pearls are very important in Tibetan culture: their origins are

believed to be mythological, according to ancient legends which may vary from province to

province. Some tell that dzis are derived from the excrement of a mythical bird that feeds on

precious stones only; others that they are petrified insects; others that dzis are pearls thrown by

the gods on earth because of their flaws, while they keep the beautiful ones for themselves.

In necklaces, the Dzi beads are often worn as principal and central pendant, frequently inserted

between two or more coral beads.

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Coral, much appreciated, gives strength and brings luck to women, favorably influencing the

menstrual cycle.

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Since antiquity the most valuable variety of coral came from the Mediterranean and was reserved

for the wealthier social classes; in fact coral beads, generally cylindrical curved, can assume

sometimes truly impressive dimensions.

The Venetian merchant Marco Polo, in the thirteenth century, already noted that both women and

men used coral for necklaces, to adorn idols and also for their hairdos.

In the province of Qinghai and in the North East of Tibet, Ando women divide their hair in 108

braids, auspicious symbolic number in Buddhist culture; while Kampa men weave their hair with

red tassels and wrap them around their head.

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Such hairdos are decorated by inserting decorative fabrics and pendants of various shapes and

materials; among these the most common are coral, turquoise and amber, that can be put in the

hair in the form of simply trimmed and drilled beads, or embellished with silver frames, engraved or

embossed.

For Buddhists the blue color represents the sky while red is the light, and these two symbols

combined together represent the whole set of natural energies.

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The turquoise is in fact another material that Tibetan jewelry cannot fail to include, because it

represents a summation of all the spiritual, physical and symbolic values.

The turquoise is used both in the form of slightly beveled and perforated rough beads, used in

necklaces, or as polished plates cut in various forms and used as pendants for earrings, necklaces

and headdresses.

Many jewels are made of silver, gold or gilded copper, where the turquoise is set in sections of

different size and shape to create a mosaic.

Women wear gaudy earrings in turquoise mosaic, while men carry at least one earring in the left

lobe in the belief that otherwise they could be reincarnated into donkeys.

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Another protagonist of Tibetan jewelry is amber, fossilized resin believed to possess healing

powers against jaundice. Baltic amber, arriving in Tibet through Russia and Turkestan, is the most

popular, due to its particular shade of yellow.

All of these gems can also be embedded in sheets sewn on clothes and on metal belts used to

secure and close the garments of traditional clothing, made of fabric in summer and of sheepskin

in winter.

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Tibetan monks have a very sober clothing, warm colors in shades of solid red and orange, and

generally do not wear jewelry except a particular “rosary” in grains of various materials, worn

between the wrist and the hand to recite various mantras.

 

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Silver jewelry in the tradition of Chinese ethnic minorities

 

China has 1 billion and 300 million inhabitants; of these, 92% belong to the Han Chinese

population while the remaining 8% is divided into as many as 55 different ethnic groups, with

different culture, traditon and language.

Therefore speaking of Chinese jewelry itself is a forced generalization that necessarily involves a

further analysis which falls into the specifics of the various ethnic minority groups.

This work is especially important because for these populations the jewels are integral part of

traditional costumes, and are the protagonists of festivals and ceremonies. It is no coincidence that

in 1 yuan and 5 jiao banknotes there are profiles of women in popular costumes and jewelry, the

same people we can still see nowadays.

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For thousands of years Miao, Dong, Shuni, Yi, Li and Yao peoples have been living from

agriculture and moving within the Asian territory in search of fertile lands; only during the

nineteenth century they have become sedentary, concentrating mainly in the southwestern part of

the country, and have been studied and catalogued by the Central Government of China. In fact

some of them have an ancient language and a millennial pictogram alphabet; others did not have a

written tradition, but only oral, and sometimes the codification of their language has led, in the midtwentieth

century, to the creation of multiple alphabets, both pictographic and syllabic, sometimes

even Latin

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While in the majority population, the Han, the favorite materials for ornaments are jade, gold, silk

and ivory, for ethnic minorities silver is the main protagonist.

The richest families can afford very complex and heavy silver jewelry, while the lower classes have

to be content with mixed metal alloys that simulate white silver. One of these alloys is nickel silver,

an alloy of copper, tin and nickel, invented precisely in China, but also used in Europe to make

cutlery and utensils, and sometimes also called “German silver.”

Both men and women wear silver jewelry and ornaments everyday, but on holidays they wear them

all in all their glory.

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Men jewelry are mostly big bracelets, chains and button decorations to apply to headgear, clothing

and belts, while women jewelry are definitely the most elaborate and impressive, used to adorn

beautiful hairstyles, clothing, ears, neck, temples and arms. Necklaces are often rigid, circular or

semicircular and sometimes of truly remarkable size. Women also often wear a back pendant, its

shape usually spiral or multi-faceted.

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Another difference between the Han goldsmith tradition and the ethnic minorities’ one is that the

former have a strong reluctance to pierce the body, because they think it is a divine gift to cherish

and respect; while the latter can carry elaborate fish hook earrings sometimes of considerable

weight, even more than 700 grams per pair. Even necklaces can be very heavy, up to 5 kg each;

sometimes the wealthiest women wear, in the main traditional festivals, up to 15 kg of jewels!

The grandeur, beauty, and the amount of silver jewelry shows clearly the status not only of the

woman who wears them but also of her family, therefore parents usually give their daughters a

dowry of silver jewelry that can cost the equivalent of a year’s work.

dong

In Guizhou province, in southwestern China, the silversmiths are numerous but, according to the

seasons, work in the fields as well. Many have learned the profession from their fathers and

grandfathers and some are temporary employees for the government, when not working in the

fields.

Silver is sold annually by the Government to the silversmiths of the ethnic minorities, even in the

most remote parts of China, in established quantities.

There is no punching required, such as for Western silversmiths, but sometimes appear punches

bearing the name of the silversmith and the name of the owner.

In many villages the silversmith’s techniques are very rudimentary: the forging of metal is done by

hand using artisanal kilns, and bellows and other tools are also artisanals; furthermore each

silversmith creates with his hands the silver thread, and realizes himself the lead molds which

serve to melt the metal to create plates and pendants. This aspect makes each piece of jewelry a

unique identifier of the manual skill of the craftsman and the taste and wealth of the buyer.

Most of the jewels are made by working metal wire of various thickness, of circular section or

parallelepiped section, twisted and braided to create to create plays of “lunar” light sometimes of

great charm and beauty. The fusion is often used to make geometric pendants or straps decorated

with bas-reliefs.

Rarely the silver plates are worked with repousse or chasel techniques, so the weight of the metal

increases dramatically.

yao3

The most commonly used decorative technique is the incision, that runs thickly over the entire

surface with a sense of horror vacui, often making the object vibrant, thanks to the fact that it is still

hand-made with various burins.

The patterns are related to the myths of the ethnic minorities’ tradition and to their everyday life.

Some common elements are the dragon – male or female – positive symbol by the changing shape,

depending on the culture in which it is located: dragon-man, dragon-fish, dragon-silkworm, etc;

other symbols are the butterfly; the fish, a powerful symbol of prosperity and fertility; the water

buffalo and its horns, which often are also found in the large female headdresses; finally, stylized

lotus flowers. Among the symbolic animals belonging also to the Han culture appear the phoenix

(fenghuang) and the lion (shishi); while among the religious symbols we find the Buddha and the

Dao with the symbols of Yin and Yang.

shi-shi

It is unfortunately very difficult to find Chinese silver jewelry of ancient workmanship because

during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) wearing jewelry was forbidden, and the existing ones

were melted. Even the beautiful women’s hairstyles disappeared together with hairpins and combs,

because everyone had to wear their hair short.

Fenghuang

With the end of the Cultural Revolution jewels could again be produced, and time had made

communication and exchanges much easier; thus the various ethnic minorities have shared many

stylistic and figurative elements making it more difficult to create, nowadays, safe and distinctive

classifications.

AYE327_GU

Dr. Bianca Cappello – Historian of Jewelry

biancacappello@libero.it

References:

France Borel, Ethnos – gioielli da terre lontane, Milano 1994

Simon Kwan, Sun Ji, Chinese Gold Ornaments, Hong Kong 2003

AAVV, L’arte dei gioielli d’argento – Le minoranze della Cina, del Triangolo d’Oro, Mongolia e Tibet – La collezione di RenŽ Van der Star, Milano 2006

Hugh Tait, 7000 years of Jewellery, Londra 2006