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The Blue Road to Hong Kong
by Muhammad Yusuf February 15, 2018
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Liang Yi Museum, Hong Kong, is hosting ‘The Blue Road: Mastercrafts from Persia’, the first, most dedicated and comprehensive exhibition surveying different aspects of the colour blue in Persian art and history, in Hong Kong.

Opening Mar. 20 and running June 24, the event coincides with the sixth edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong, which will also see the first-ever gallery from Iran participating in the art fair.

Curated by Dr Yuka Kadoi, ‘The Blue Road: Mastercrafts from Persia’, is collaborating with eleven major institutions worldwide, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, UK; David Collection, Denmark; Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore and the Freer and Sackler Gallery Archives, USA, for the exhibition. Complementing this are also objects loaned from private collectors in Hong Kong.

With materials and categories ranging from glass, ceramic, textiles, painting and manuscripts and set across different media and time spans, the display of 94 artefacts will illuminate the significant role of blue in the visual and material culture of Iran. The colour personifies a timeless quality in Persian history and has impacted the shaping of other artistic traditions in Asia and beyond.

‘The Blue Road: Mastercrafts from Persia’ has been divided into six thematic sections, showcasing and examining how blue became an essential element in the arts of pre-contemporary Middle East. A series of talks, tours, short courses and lectures takes place during the exhibition.

Opened in 2014, Liang Yi Museum is Hong Kong’s largest private museum, located on Hollywood Road, in the heart of the historic district. Housing a world-class collection of Chinese antique furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as the world’s most extensive collection of European vanities, it is considered a significant addition to the arts, heritage and cultural landscape of the city.

Lynn Fung, Liang Yi Museum Director, speaks to Time Out on colours, civilisations and collaborations and about the exhibition  

* When did you travel to Iran?

I was in Iran at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017. I spent about eight days in the country, visiting the museums in Tehran; then visiting the historic houses of Kashan; I spent a few days in Isfahan, admiring the beautiful mosques around Naqsh-e-Jahan Square, before finishing my trip in Shiraz.

* If blue is the primary colour of Iranian art, what is the main colour in which Chinese art is expressed?

It is hard to say: obviously blue and white are also very central to Chinese porcelain and ceramics, while red is what most people would think of when they think of Chinese lacquer, particularly lacquered furniture.

At the same time, if you are mostly thinking of ink paintings, then black and white would be the palette you would associate with that medium. And then of course, there is the light-green shade of celadon ceramics. So I think it really depends on the medium!

* Why did blue not touch Han Chinese civilisation deeply (“one blue over the Chinese nest”) - though it has obviously affected you?

I think most people associate Chinese culture with red and gold, and in a sense, I think because those colours are seen as so auspicious that they are what immediately jump to mind when we think of the Han Chinese civilisation.

To me, I have always loved the colour blue: I find it tranquil and calming. I think one of my first real memories of how striking the colour blue can be was of course when I first laid eyes on the Blue Mosque in Istanbul; and standing under one of the blue mosaic domes of the Shah Mosque in Isfahan, it really made me understand viscerally how the colour blue could denote heaven for many people.

* Does colour play an important part in a civilisation’s ethos?

 Speaking from a Chinese perspective, I would say yes, absolutely.

* Why haven’t you used the word “turquoise”? Why do you use the milder “blue”?

To me, turquoise is a material, a stone. While in this exhibition, we have objects made of turquoise, we also have materials including glass, ceramic, textiles, manuscripts, etc; as well as all different shades of blue from the most vivid navy to a light sky-blue.

To have used the word “turquoise” - which even if I were to think of it as a colour, would only be blue-green - is too narrow a description for the objects in this exhibition.

* How are Islam and Muslims perceived in Hong Kong? Are HK-ers familiar with Islamic art?

I think there is a familiarity with Islam in Hong Kong as there are 10 million Hui people (ethnic-Chinese Muslims) in China; so it is not a totally foreign concept or religion.

As for Islamic art, it is a very hot topic in the art world, and I think for those who do travel outside of Hong Kong, they would have some familiarity with Islamic art.

However, I must say that I don’t think overall there is a huge exposure to Persian art in Hong Kong, and that was one of our goals in staging this exhibition; to allow people who may not have the chance to travel to the Middle East, or Iran, to be able to enjoy some of these amazing objects.

* Which is your favourite genre among glass, ceramic, textiles, painting and manuscripts, being shown in the exhibition?

It’s difficult to say! I have favourite objects definitely, but they range across all the different genres. I love the 19th century bronze lamp from the Enamel section of the exhibition on loan to us from the David Collection; but I also love a lot of the objects from the Manuscripts section; including 17th century painted seal of the Emperor Aurangzeb, on loan to us from the Wellcome Collection.

* What role has your father, museum founder Peter Fung Yiu-Fai, played in the making of this exhibition?

Apart from providing his moral support, he has mainly stayed in the background!

* Have you travelled in Arab lands? The region too has a splendid artistic history - you could soon showcase art and artefacts from here!

I have only been to Dubai; but would love to see more of the region, especially Oman and Abu Dhabi.

* You have links with major art museums like V&A and Freer and Sackler. Why not collaborate with institutions in the UAE or the region, for example, the Sharjah Museums Authority?

Again, we would love to in the future. However, for ‘The Blue Road’, most of the decisions about which objects to borrow were left up to our curator, Dr Yuka Kadoi.

Curator, researcher, author and authority on Islamic Arts Kadoi talks about the exhibition

* Does your interest in the Mongols lie in their role as bridge builders between the Islamic and Chinese worlds?

Yes, I have a long-term research interest in the cross-cultural dialogues between the Middle East and East Asia during the time of the Mongol Empire (13th-14th centuries). By looking at the material culture of Mongol Eurasia, we can learn one of the important patterns of globalisation in pre-modern times.

* What did you find in the 94 art pieces that you are showcasing them?

Each piece can stand alone, but as a group of exhibits, they are interrelated with each other so as to narrate different phases of cultural interaction along the Blue Road.  

* Why did you focus on blue?

Blue is not only visually attractive but also symbolically important. Moreover, it is a key colour component of tracing the pathway of cultural and artistic communication between East and West.

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