Chinese ceramics exhibition at Hood embraces cultural hybridity

by Elizabeth Garrison | 3/30/18 1:45am

At first glance, the pottery pieces displayed in the Hood Downtown’s spring exhibition, “Sin-ying Ho: Past Forward” seem to adhere to the traditional image of Chinese ceramics: round white porcelain vases decorated with ornate imperial blue designs. Upon closer inspection, surprisingly modern images of icons such as Barbie, Wonder Woman, Starbucks and John Lennon pop out at the viewer. By combining the old and the new, Ho captures the chaotic beauty of the contradictions within global society and brings the art form of ceramics into the modern era.

Throughout her life, Ho has encountered many cultural intersections. She was born in Hong Kong when it was a British colony, and immigrated to Canada. She received a B.F.A. from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and a M.F.A. from Louisiana State University. Through an off-campus study program offered by the former, she had the opportunity to study ceramics in Jingdezhen, China, which is considered the capital of porcelain. Ho currently is an assistant art professor at Queens College, City University of New York.

To Ho, pottery chose her. By using a medium that originated in Asia to combine images from different cultures, Ho explores her own hybrid identity as a global citizen. Ho said students should feel empowered to do the same through their art.

“You should, through your medium and through your arts courses, discover who you are,” Ho said. “Art teachers can direct and guide you along the way but at the end of the day it is completely up to you how you define yourself through art.”

In “Past Forward,” Ho combines symbols and images from different cultures to envision a future in which ideas and values are integrated across the globe. With technological innovation and the rapid growth of the global economy, Ho’s artwork is relevant now more than ever. While some people and countries responded to the uncertainty of globalization by closing their doors, Ho’s artwork challenges viewers to embrace the future with optimism and celebrates the fusion of different cultures.

“We need to embrace cultural hybridity. Purity of tradition is not going to continue, and the new world, which [Ho] is quite optimistic about, is going to be made up of us merging our cultures,” Director of the Hood Art Museum John Stomberg said. “And, this merger of culture is a moment of creativity that shouldn’t be feared. It is not a decline, but rather an opportunity to create a brave new future.”

As an international Asian-American female artist, Ho’s first-hand experience with the intersection of cultures gives her a unique perspective on how members of society can create this future. Professor Sunglim Kim, who works in the art history department and Asian and Middle Eastern studies program at Dartmouth, said students should pay attention to Ho’s artistic voice.

“Since Hanover is such an isolated rural community, it’s really important to pay attention to global contemporary artists and especially to marginalized artists such as Asian female artists,” Kim said. “So often, the focus of art history is on white Western male perspectives so this exhibit will expose students to something new.”

Stomberg drew parallels between the message of Ho’s work and the diversity of the Dartmouth community.

“I think in a lot of ways Dartmouth is like this because we take students from all over the world and create a new student body so there is no more pure New Hampshire,” Stomberg said. “It’s all mixed up, and that creates hope for the future. We all have to collaborate and work together as part of a global community and her work embraces this idea of a global community and sees it as a source of inspiration for her creative work.”

The exhibition title, “Past Forward,” is suggestive of Ho’s larger artistic vision.

“We can’t know the future, but we can imagine the future through art,” Ho said. “As an international citizen, I think that there is no hierarchy in culture or language because they are all reflections of our humanity. My hope for the future is that we can live together in harmony and gain a deeper understanding of each other.”

The exhibition runs from March 30 to May 27. Students can meet the artist at the Dartmouth Night student reception on Thursday, April 5, with the public opening reception taking place on Friday, April 6.