October 19, 2006
Like the discovery of a rare uncut jewel, an unusual art find rich with beauty, history and symbolism is an exciting and important event. Clearly these were the sentiments of Tokyo-based artist and philanthropist Fred Harris, who, with close friends Robert Fallon and Nguyen Thi Diu were in 2001 offered the chance to purchase an astounding 2,000-piece collection of Taoist ceremonial paintings, old costumes and masks.
Commissioned by local priests, the paintings were created by shaman artists in the remote mountain villages of northern Vietnam. Never shown before outside of the country, 300 of these rare works will be exhibited at the Shinsei Bank Headquarters building in Uchisaiwaicho till Oct. 31.
Harris, long interested in the art of Vietnam, first heard about the offer from contacts he’d established through his Dong Son Today Foundation, an NPO dedicated to supporting Vietnamese artists and art exchanges with Japan. After viewing the religious folk art, Harris, Fallon and Thi Diu agreed to the owner’s request that the collection be kept intact. They have donated it to the University of Ohio. Considered the “abode of the gods,” the paintings are used not as decoration but specifically for religious ceremonies and dances.
Painted on handmade papers in robust hues dominated by red, their vast host of magical demons, forgiving madonnas and conquering warriors convey with clear simplicity the tales and concepts of Taoism.