EXHIBIT - PAPER DIALOGUES: THE DRAGON AND OUR STORIES
The American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis
February 18 through July 10, 2022
Leslie Anne Anderson of the National Nordic Museum - Seattle, WA - In 2010, Sino-Norwegian diplomatic relations were strained when the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the members of which were selected by parliament, awarded the annual Peace Prize to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobao. Bilateral relations normalized six years later; however, it was under these conditions that an important cross-cultural conversation began through art.
Danish papercutting artist Karen Bit Vejle traveled with support of the Norwegian government to China. She had been invited to exhibit her work there. Vejle, who is knowledgeable in Nordic art history, draws inspiration from Norway’s medieval wood carvings and the 19th-century papercuts of Danish Golden Age author Hans Christian Andersen. She not only understands the visual culture of her home region, but also that of others that have fostered the art of papercutting for centuries. China witnessed the birth of the art form over 1,500 years ago. Interestingly, it was a craft that thrived amongst women artists in rural areas who used it as a form of expression.
When Vejle visited this cradle of papercutting, she sought out a colleague with whom to collaborate on a project exploring how the two cultures approach the same artistic medium. In April 2013, she met Professor Xiaoguang Qiao at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, and they selected a common motif in Nordic and Chinese art – the dragon – to depict alongside each other. The dragon figures prominently in Chinese culture throughout time and is an auspicious symbol (called “long”), while the Norse dragon is most often associated with the Viking Period and the Middle Ages as an apotropaic (evil-repelling) symbol.
Though the artists spoke different languages and relied on translators for verbal communication, Vejle shared that she and Qiao are “likeminded” in their artistic philosophies, but their styles and methods of display differ. For example, Vejle’s mounting of sizeable papercuts between glass plates and reliance on lighting the papercuts to cast shadows, giving the two-dimensional works a three-dimensional, or sculptural, presence, was new to Qiao. The artists’ works informed each other, as previous cultural encounters had on artists of earlier eras. One of Vejle’s papercuts produced during this collaboration alludes to earlier exchanges. One piece in the exhibition features a knitting pattern popularized by Norwegian women in World War II. The pattern became a cryptic symbol of camaraderie among compatriots, yet its origins are Asian.
Their cross-cultural approach lent itself to an exhibition that travels the world. Hosted by the ArtHouse Jersey in the Channel Islands, the exhibition Paper Dialogues expanded to include two new local artists, Layla May Arthur and Emma Reid, in 2016. It is this iteration of the exhibition that will travel to the National Nordic Museum in Fall 2021, encouraging American practitioners in the art of psaligraphy to join in the conversation.
Leslie Anne Anderson
Director of Collections, Exhibitions, and Programs
The American Swedish Institute Website
Karen Bit Vejle Website
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