Exhibition celebrates the ubiquitous art of calligrapher Tung Yang-tzu

01/29/2020 02:23 PM
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Photo courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Photo courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Taipei, Jan. 29 (CNA) Although Tung Yang-tzu (董陽孜) is perhaps not a household name, it is hard to go anywhere in Taiwan without encountering her calligraphy.

Her work appears everywhere, from the passport stamps at immigration control, to the logos of Taiwan's Ministry of Culture, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and Huashan Creative Park; the covers of books by renowned novelist Pai Hsien-yung (白先勇); in the main hall of Taipei Station and the arrivals terminal of Songshan Airport; even in a music video by the pop star Jay Chou (周杰倫).

Now, 94 of Tung's large-format pieces, as well as oil paintings dating from early in her career, are being exhibited at Taipei Fine Arts Museum, in a solo retrospective called "Moving Ink."

Born in Shanghai in 1942, Tung came to Taiwan at age 10, and studied art at National Taiwan Normal University. After a period spent developing her skills in the United States, Tung returned to Taiwan in 1977 to devote herself full-time to calligraphy.

While Tung's training involved faithfully reproducing the works of historical masters of the genre, her mature works are notable for their improvisatory, emotional style, which she credits to her training in other visual arts.

Tung says that calligraphy, while often neglected, is a vital part of Taiwan's cultural heritage.

Even in the 21st century, as advances in technology threaten to overshadow or even replace traditional art forms, Tung insists on her preference for the physical presence of the written word.

"Technology makes life convenient, but it dilutes our human relationships," she complains, "With one click, you can erase anything on a computer. But remember, people still save old handwritten letters because of their emotional resonance."

Tung's aversion to certain aspects of modernity -- she doesn't own a mobile phone or computer -- hasn't stopped her from seeking to reinvent her work through genre-crossing experiments and collaborations in areas such as sculpture, music and fashion design.

However, her hope for these decidedly contemporary endeavors remains the same: "that it will encourage someone to pick up a brush and write, so the cultural heritage of calligraphy can be passed on."

Tung's solo retrospective, "Moving Ink," is open through March 8 at Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

(By Chao Ching-yu and Matthew Mazzetta)

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