TWO exciting exhibitions celebrating the Chinese Year of the Dog are on display for the public at the Zhejiang Art Museum.
The Chinese Spring Festival has been the nation’s biggest celebration for generations. People put up spring couplets and the character fu (福, meaning luck or good fortune) on the entrance to their houses, to wish for health and prosperity for the year.
Some locals even decorate their windows with Chinese papercuts and put up posters of the door gods, a pair of divine protectors that cast away evil spirits.
One exhibition gathers together spring couplets, the mounted fu and papercuts made by university professors, writers, translators, monks, traditional Chinese opera performers and go players.
All couplets are written with ink brush on a red vertical rice paper, that is hung on the wall in pairs. A typical couplet is of seven characters, with themes on the coming of the spring, New Year’s wishes and celebrations and mentions of the zodiac animal of the year.
The character fu is always written on a square sheet with its four angles pointing to the cardinal directions. It is still arguable whether the fu shall be hung upside down or not. But according to folklore, it should never be upside down at the entrance facing the street.
There are also certain rules on what kind of things can or cannot be put in a papercut. Bats are desired as the character rhymes with fu or fortune. Elderly people are also popular subjects for expressing wishes for longevity.
In another exhibition, contemporary artists produce paintings and printmaking related to the Chinese Year of the Dog. It originates from a tradition that dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
Painters that worked for the imperial court started to produce sketches about flowers and vegetation that are not commonly seen in winter. And they were put up inside the palaces as a way to welcome the new year.
It later became an important category in traditional Chinese ink-wash paintings called suizhao (beginning of the year) picture. As a comparison to a New Year picture that is hung in commoners’ household, suizhao picture represents the culture of the aristocrats and the scholar-gentleman caste.
The artworks showcased in the exhibition are more loosely centered on the category. It is divided into three parts of ink-wash paintings, watercolor paintings and printmaking. Most of the pieces are small-sized ones no larger than 34 centimeters in diameter.
A variety of dog species are featured in the artists’ works. They are dressed up like human beings, disguised as door gods or placed in a traditional pattern that goes with auspicious messages appeared in the painting at the same time.
In Chinese culture, dogs are praised for their loyalty, braveness and agility. So it will be a good chance to enjoy the museum’s dog portraits, which conjure up the festive mood.
Date: Through March 18 (closed on Mondays)
Address: Zhejiang Art Museum, 138 Nanshan Rd