Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall Presents Nian Hua: Of Deities, Guardians and Auspicious Art



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Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall presents a journey into the centuries-old craft of woodblock printing and examines the tradition of new year prints in a special exhibition.

Venue: Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall
Date: 21 Jan - 25 Sep 2022, 10 am - 5 pm (Tue to Sun)
Admission: Free

Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (SYSNMH) presents a special exhibition, Nian Hua: Of Deities, Guardians and Auspicious Art, which showcases the centuries-old Chinese tradition of Nian Hua and its significance.

The features close to 70 artefacts which originate from different provinces of China and is presented in collaboration with one of the largest museums in China, the Chongqing China Three Gorges Museum.

What Is A Nian Hua? 

Nian Hua (年画), which translates to “new year prints”, are colourful woodblock-printed images that adorned homes in Chinese villages and cities during the Lunar New Year. They were used by families to seek protection and blessings for their households for the year ahead.

Through the exhibition, the Memorial Hall seeks to shed light on Chinese traditions, popular beliefs and folk customs, and how these have evolved, particularly in Singapore.

The collection on display covers artefacts produced during the Qing dynasty (1636 - 1912) to the 1980s. It also includes curated prints from the collections of the National Museum of Singapore, Asian Civilisations Museum and Singapore Art Museum, and modern-day interpretations of Nian Hua by local and international artists.

Nian Hua: Of Deities, Guardians and Auspicious Art

The exhibition will be presented across four main sections – Door Deities and Guardians; Kitchen God, Earth God and other Deities; Blessings for the Bedchambers; and Happiness, Prosperity and Longevity.

Protecting households from evil spirits

Door deities and guardians are painted or pasted on the doors of households to protect families by barring evil spirits from entering. Nian Hua depicting door gods usually come in a pair, one for each side of the door, and are the earliest form of new year prints.

These door deities and guardians were often originally demon slayers such as Shenshu (神荼) and Yulu (郁垒), and Zhong Kui (钟馗). From the 16th century, the Chinese also began to depict figures such as celestial officials, who are believed to bestow blessings of wealth and longevity upon the family. Subsequently, door prints came to include a repertoire of auspicious decorations ranging from immortals from folk religions to deified persons to Chinese opera characters.

Kitchen God, Earth God and other deities for blessings and protection

The Chinese were traditionally polytheists who believed in many deities, including figures from Chinese mythology, Taoism and Buddhism. They believed that there were numerous deities, immortals and deified heroes who ruled over the three realms of heaven, earth and hell. Consequently, images of these deities were printed on paper for the common people to pray to in their homes for both blessings and protection.

Nian Hua for blessings for the bedchambers

In the past, children, especially boys, held a very special place in Chinese society for the role they play in the perpetuation of the family line. The
importance of having male heirs was of such significance to the Chinese that it was common for new year prints to depict symbols and auspicious sayings of fertility. These prints were often pasted inside or on the bedroom doors of married couples.

Wishes for a happy, prosperous and long life

By surrounding themselves with auspicious prints and decorations, the Chinese believe that these items will make their wishes come true and bring them good fortune. Hence, the prints that the common people hang in their homes and paste on their doors provide useful insights into what was important to them. While the symbols used in these prints vary, the common wishes of the people include the desire for a long life, prosperity, and a happy family preferably with successful sons.

Lawn Installation - Blessings Come A-Knocking

This pair of illustrations feature reimagined superheroes from American comics. The illustration on the left is titled “General Iron” while the illustration on the right is titled “General Loyalty”. While they may be decked out in traditional opera costumes, they retained key distinguishing features of the two popular superheroes they are supposed to represent.

Workshops

As part of the Wan Qing Festival of Spring 2022, families can also expect family-friendly workshops happening during this period. 

Letterpress Printing Workshop: Red Packets 

Date: 12 Feb 2022
Time: 10 am - 12 pm
Fee: $10/pair (tickets)

Print your own red packets with this letterpress printing workshop! You will get to learn more about the process and history behind letterpress printing in Singapore, get hands-on with a proofing press, and experience the traditional woodblock printing technique.

Festive Chinese Drums Workshop

Date: 12 Feb 2022
Time: 12.30 pm - 1.30 pm & 4 pm - 5 pm
Fee: $8/pax (tickets)

Drum up a storm in this energetic musical workshop – team up with your child and learn basic drumming techniques used for Chinese percussion instruments and experience a variety of rhythms and beats.

Children’s Lion Dance Workshop

Date: 13 Feb 2022
Time: 12.30 pm - 1.30 pm & 4 pm - 5 pm 
Fee: $8/pax (tickets)

Get into the festive spirit with this interactive children’s lion dance workshop that promises unforgettable fun for the whole family! Limber up with a series of full-body stretches, learn basic dance movements from expert instructors, have fun trying on miniature lion dance costumes, and discover the origins behind this well-loved artform. The workshop is recommended for children 5 years old and above.

Lantern Making Workshop

Date: 13 Feb 2022
Time: 10 am - 12 pm 
Fee: $10/pair (tickets)

Learn the basics of lantern decoration through printmaking and enhance your understanding of Chinese culture through this workshop. Design, paint, and print patterns to create your very own lantern with Jimm Wong, one of the last few traditional lantern makers in Singapore making Fuzhou and Cantonese-style lanterns.

What We Think? 

The exhibition might not be 100% suitable for young children, but parents may still wish to drop by for a 30 - 60min visit as the exhibits can be quite interesting with lots of learning points too! 

There will also be a simple stamping activity for kids to take part in. Do also sign-up for the workshops as those looked really interesting too! 

Ticketing and Dates

Nian Hua: Of Deities, Guardians and Auspicious Art is happening at Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall from 21 Jan - 25 Sep 2022. It is open from Tue to Sun at 10 am - 5 pm daily. 

Admission is free. Workshops are charged separately. 


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This article is prepared by

Jiarong Yu
Daddy to 2 adorable little ones. Misses them the moment they are not around, regrets missing them the moment they are around.

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