2019 / 5月
The NPM Children's Creative Center
Camille Kuo /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Jonathan Barnard
In the Indian epic poem the Ramayana, the monkey god Hanuman travels with Rama to battle the ten-headed demon king Ravana. In Southeast Asia, Hanuman is a household name and regarded as a hero. Meanwhile, in the Children’s Creative Center at the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum, he has transformed into an auspicious beast—cute and mischievous—who leads children to gain knowledge about various elements of Asian culture, including traditional Chinese blue-and-white glazed ceramics and Indonesian textiles, as well as Vietnamese food, clothing and residential architecture.
Images of Hanuman’s dashing figure have found their way to many Asian nations. In wayang kulit—Indonesian shadow puppet theater—he appears as the nimble guardian monkey god, with limbs elongated and eyes glaring in anger. Over time, he became the laughing, open-mouthed monkey king found in a Vietnamese figurine with underglaze blue and overglaze colors. This version of Hanuman holds an yuhuchunping vase in his hands, and a long sword hangs from his waist. He looks rather intimidating. In khon, a form of Thai theater with more than 400 years of history, he is represented by performers dressed as monkeys who dance agilely with unhurried elegance.
Images of Hanuman are ubiquitous. Some scholars say the monkey king Sun Wukong in Journey to the West is in fact based on Hanuman. Others even argue that Momotaro, the “peach boy” of Japanese folklore, is derived from him.
Have you yet to make his acquaintance? If so, then be sure to catch the performances that tell the story of Hanuman at the Children’s Creative Center’s Asian Theater.
Getting to know Indonesian batik
In the long river of history, the image of Hanuman has changed time and again—whether in graphic motifs or in puppets. For an exhibit on Indonesian textiles in 2018, the Children’s Creative Center brought together a series of Hanuman representations from batiks in the National Palace Museum collection. It then took those images of Indonesian art, which UNESCO has recognized as part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage,” and incorporated them into children’s toys.
From a jigsaw puzzle of motifs taken from a batik shawl in the museum’s collection featuring images of a puppet shadow play, children gain an introduction to the shadow puppetry that has deep historical roots in Indonesian culture. The images are taken from the Mahabarata, an Indian epic story that is as famous in Indonesia as the Ramayama. The young visitors also gain an appreciation for many-colored batiks, which haven’t lost their vibrancy after many years and many washings.
On the other side of the room, there is a big jigsaw puzzle featuring traditional motifs found on Han Chinese table skirts used during harvest festivals. In earlier times, table skirts were often embroidered. Beginning in the 20th century ethnic Chinese Indonesians adapted to local customs and began to use batik. A batik table skirt decorated with a lion on a red background, which is the source of motifs for the jigsaw puzzle, is an example of Indonesian and Chinese cultural fusion.
Indonesian cultural motifs are numerous and varied. Children can apply stamps and color with crayons to create individualized batik patterns. And they can apply their color choices to Indonesian clothing that they can “try on” in front of an augmented-reality mirror. They can even use a remote control device to play an angklung, a traditional Indonesian instrument of bamboo tubes. By having fun at play they learn about another culture.
Another exhibition area focuses on Vietnamese food, clothing, residences, and culture. Like in the area on Indonesian textiles, here too visitors can put on traditional Vietnamese clothing to try out for themselves. Wearing an ao dai dress, you can stroll along a traditional Vietnamese street featuring a zongzi shop, a pastry shop, a drum store, and a street stall proprietor kneading dough.
Playing house with NPM treasures
The Children’s Creative Center is different from most museums. Here one seldom sees the words “do not touch.” Children can use their five senses to experience works from the National Palace Museum. The exhibition features an array of ceramic treasures from the NPM collection, including examples of blue-and-white china with floral patterns from Emperor Yongle’s reign (1402‡1424) in the Ming Dynasty and a Korean maebyeong vessel with an inlaid cloud and crane pattern, from the Goryeo Dynasty (918‡1392). Visitors can play house with copies of antique blue-and-white china that exude a highly cultured and artistic air.
In the Ming and Qing dynasties, a global fashion for blue-and-white ceramics took hold, and various Asian nations began to manufacture such ware in their own styles. In addition to China, Korea also came to be known around the world for its ceramics. Children can hold with their own hands ceramics made with the sanggam inlaying process that was used for making celadon ceramics in Korea, thus gaining first-hand knowledge about these ceramics and their manufacture.
To be sure, the children probably won’t remember the entire manufacturing process, but, “We plant a seed,” explains assistant curator Wang Chien Yu. “And they will know where to go for more information.”
The center also offers “three-dimensional ceramic jigsaw puzzles,” which even adults will find difficult to finish. And Japanese tea utensils are available to handle in conjunction with the NPM Southern Branch exhibition “The Far-Reaching Fragrance of Tea: The Art and Culture of Tea in Asia.” Everyone can try their hand at becoming a ceramics restorer or a master of tea culture.
Next stop: Thailand
The Children’s Creative Center has separate exhibition areas that spotlight Japan, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. There are plans for expansion, with a goal of introducing all of Asia. An educational exhibition on Thai culture will debut in 2019, and will offer an in-depth look at Thai kohn dance theater, including displays of objects from the National Palace Museum’s Thai collection. The goal is to spark in children a love of learning.
Wang Chien Yu mentions the objective of promoting three stages of education for kids at the Children’s Creative Center: one starts by observing something’s appearance, moves on to learn about it, and then finally advances to be able to convey information about it. Accordingly, the center looks to create an environment that stimulates learning for children of different ages and stages of intellectual development.
In 2016, the NPM Southern Branch launched its “Travel + Art” project, which aims to get a million students to come the Southern Branch. Via hands-on exhibitions and experiential interactions that challenge the sense of restraint often imposed by museums, the project is advancing understanding of Asian culture and cultivating a love for Asian art.
“Little me has big dreams!” The Children’s Creative Center in Chiayi is faithful to the NPM Southern Branch’s mission to push forward in three ways: strengthening art’s roots, connecting locally, and promoting Asia’s cultural diversity. It hopes to foster knowledge of Asian culture and a sense of aesthetics in every child.