Friday, February 29, 2008

7:Hannya Masks

Hannya Mask
s were used by the traditional Japanese actors of the Noh theatre. These performances with these masks were to show very stylized representations of traditional stories, in Japan, during the 14th century.

These masks conveyed the identity and mood of the various characters. There were nearly eighty different styled masks in the theatre. Actors took a certain role as a hero, deity, devil, ghost, or legendary animal, depending on the performance. Hannya Masks do not have anything to do with Satan. They are more a concept of a hell in the Japanese Buddhism.

The Hannya Mask is specifically used to represent a vengeful and jealous woman to such a degree of anger that she has turned into a demon, but with human traits left. The most prominent points of these masks are the pointed horns, metal gleaming eyes, strands of hair and a leering mouth split from ear to ear with metal fang-like teeth, combined with expressions of hate.

Masks were made from clay, wood, ivory, dry lacquer, paper, stone, metal, and cloth. The majority of masks are carved from wood and painted. The ivory masks are worth the most value and were made from the tusks of large mammals such as elephants.

Tattooing likes to use these characters in its “flash” by putting good and evil Hannya faces against one another, and tattooed traditionally on the top chest area or as a large back piece. The deeper and more extreme colouring of the face, especially using more reddish colours, indicates the deeper the anger.

Hannya are highly valued and very rare. They should be treasured and passed onto family generations for years to come.


TANE:Ancient Asian Tattooing


The word tattoo is said to be derived from the Tahitian word ‘tatau’ meaning ‘to strike something’. This word was appropriated by the British explorer Captain James Cook who in turn introduced the concept to Europe. Tattooing had origins in many cultures throughout 5000 years including the Eskimos and the Maori tribes of New Zealand; In Asia the phenomenon appeared in Burma and along the Silk Route, but most prominently in the underworld of Japan.

Tattooing was a concept thought to be absent from
China during the early A.D.s. However, Marco
Polo reported that in the heart of Chinese
society a small tattoo was considered
a mark of handsomeness among men
and women.

In India, hanuman was a popular
symbol of limb strength. This
design of a mythical monk was
applied by monks who
incorporated magical powers
while tattooing.

The Japanese were interested in tattooing’s decorative attributes rather than magical. The earliest textual and archeological evidence suggests the Japanese practice of skin art emerged as far back as 10,000 B.C.

An archeological study unearthed several dogu (figurines) made in Japan during the Jomon period (circa 10,000 B.C. to 300 B.C.). These figurines bore markings around their mouths. In comparison with the markings of many Pacific cultures, these dogu markings were conclusive to the theory that tattooing existed during this period.
Tattooing in the Yayoi period of Japan (300 B.C. to A.D. 300) was not documented by this society. Instead, all historical evidence comes from brief descriptions in ancient Chinese text referring to Japan. “Men, young and old, all tattoo their faces and decorate their bodies with designs …/ Later, however, the designs became merely ornamental.” (Goodrich 1951:10).
The Kofun period in Japan (A.D 300-600) produced works documenting the meanings of tattoo practices during the time. Many writings, in particular the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, describe tattoos as being part of social status identification – in most cases associated with criminals.

Through the Edo period (1600 to 1868) the Japanese upper classes began to see the emergence of full-body tattoos (or irezumi) as a trait of the lower classes. “In Japan the tattoo was considered to be an entirely inappropriate practice for members of ‘decent’ society…considered a periphery of society, by those of rowdy behavior and so on.” (McCallum 1988:121) Raids on tattoo artists occurred daily as the government feared a corruption of public morals. The irezumi were banned as a barbaric custom in 1872. The law remained until the end of WWII.

In the Middle East, during the time of the Old Testament, tattoos were being practiced as a means of pagan deity worship. After the advent of Christianity, tattooing was forbidden in Europe, but persisted in the Middle East.

Masters Of Tattoo, Gregor von Glinski, Edition Stemmle
The Encyclopaedia Brittannica Vol. II 15th Edition, MICROPAEDIA Ready Reference Pushing Ink The Fine Art Of Tattooing, Spider Webb, Schiffer Publishing

Images: Yakuza member being tattooed/Yakuza gang image
Large back tattoo- . Delightful fellow with full-body tattoos and naked butt- .
Yakuza prints on girl’s back –
Japanese girl getting tats black and white -

Chinese Calligraphy

Ancient Chinese Calligraphy

‘Beautiful writing,’ most commonly referred to as Calligraphy or "Shu Fa", is descriptive of an oriental art form taken on by Asian cultures, most evidently including the Chinese, as a means of day-to-day life in terms of communication.
This tradition, approximately 4000 years old, remains highly regarded over painting and sculpture as through the use of a brush, ink, paper and ink stones are the basic elements and objects used as a means of self expression, communication and cultivation.

Particularly in ancient China, the unique beauty of calligraphy soon developed into an art as the defined characters in which were used were able to communicate the spiritual world of the artist. In doing so, an artist of this style would incorporate form, brush handling, presentation and style into their work, allowing them to convey emotions, character and integrity far beyond the symbols history based on legendary tales and on textual criticism in archaeology. During the imperial era, calligraphy was used as an important criterion for selection of executives to the Imperial court.

As the sole of Chinese culture, Calligraphy is painted by special calligraphy paper (Xuan paper), special brush and special ink. By controlling ink stroke, the thickness and absorption of the paper, and the flexibility of the brush being used, the artist is able to produce an infinite variety of styles and forms.

Calligraphy is not just another way of writing Chinese characters, but also a beautiful, elaborate and a stylish art of interpretation and a branch of learning. In essence, Calligraphy is an abstract art.

Websites used

Book References

Guo, Bonan 1995. Gate to Chinese Calligraphy. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

KURT: Jali

Pierced stone windows and screens in Indian architecture.

In India around the late 16th century Jalis where extensively used through out buildings and Architecture. It is a carved ornamental lattice screen made from red sand stone and marble, they where set in walls, windows on balconies, and terraces and sometimes as dividers in rooms of buildings, with the design feature of blocking out the sun yet letting the air flow through them.

Geometrical forms and Calligraphic patterns where used,
with a strong Islamic influence also Timurid cultures (people of Turko-Mongol descent) and Central Asia with indigenous traditions of Hindu and Muslim India were a large influence.

Jalis retained privacy and acted as physical barriers to keep the security and sanctity of holy areas,
It was said that the intricate mastery would be best seen from the shadows cast on the floor from the Jalis.

Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar or other wise known as “Akbar the great” reigned as Emperor from 1556 to 1605 and is credited to the real foundation of the Mughal Dynasty (1526-1857).
His passion for the arts was widely seen in the architecture commissioned at the Fatepuh Sikri also known as “town of victory” where he built the walled capital near the town Agra between
1571 and 1585.

The Mughals were extremely conscious of the potential of architecture as a way of self-representation. During the reign of the Mughals in the 17th century the level and complexity of the Jalis reached their peak.

At the Red Fort in Delhi and the Taj Mahal in Agra one can see the best examples of this beautiful craftsmanship.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008


The Dongba script is an ancient Chinese script used to this day by the Naxi (Nahki) people of the Yunnan province in southwestern China east of the first bend of the Yangtze River. The Naxi people are one of the 55 recognized National Minorities that can be found in today's China.

This pictographic script of the Naxi dates back over a thousand years and and is the only pictographic script left in the world that can be written, read and understood in its original form. Approximately 1400 Dongba characters are still being used to this day.

The script is used solely to recount the myths, ledgends and religious beliefs of the Naxi people and is not directly related to their spoken language. Comparisons have been made between the Dongba script and the Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs, as they differ so greatly from traditional Chinese characters. According to some scholars the sacred writing of the Dongba religion or the "Dongba scriptures" amount to over 50,000 volumes. These scriptures were generally written on handmade sheets of paper sewn together at the left edge to form a book. Due to its complexity it can take decades to even become proficient at the Dongba script, which is a fair indication of the Naxi peoples dedication to their ideologies. Today there are around 60 Dongba priests that can read and write the Dongba script, younger priests are actively trying to revive the script in local schools. The preservation of the Dongba writing script is also strong representation of the Chinese people's love and appreciation of their rich history and culture.


ROS: Ukiyo-e

Ukiyo-e "the floating world"was a popular form of printed art during the Edo period, inexpensive and usually depicting scenes from everyday life in Japan's urban centres - fashion, entertainment & pleasures of the flesh.

The founder of Ukiyo-e was 17th centuary artist Hishikawa Moronobu. Some famous following artists were Ando Hiroshige, Hokusai Katsukika, Kitagawa Utamaro and Toshusai Sharaku.

Ukiyo-e is known for its exceptional woodblock prints. After opening trade with the west 1867, these prints became very well-known and influential in Europe. In the late 1800s-1950s, Japonisme influenced such artists as Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and Gauguin. Their paintings showJapanese characteristic style of flat brilliant colours, thick contours and bold design.

The production of woodblock prints is a complex process, many steps, each usually performed by a different craftsmen. Although in modern print movement, an artist often performs all the steps themselves.

The image would first be drawn onto washi (papers made from fibres of three plants, Kozo-paper mulberry,Mitsumata & Gampi), then glued onto a plank of wood, usually cherry. Wood would then be carved away.

Ink was applied to the block, using hake (horse's mane brush). Rice starch was sometimes added for better adhesion and colour depth. Paper was laid on the block, using the kento (one right angle, where the corner of the paper fits), and the ink rubbed onto the paper using a semi-circular motion with a barren (a large circular flat pad, of bamboo and coiled straw). A fixed sequence of colours was always followed, light, dark then finally dense blacks. Natural vegetable dyes were used until 1860's, gradually being replaced by aniline dyes.
Japanese prints were sometimes produced in limited editions as 'high art', but usually were mass-produced - posters. A publisher's ownership of the woodblock used to print an image formed the closest equivalent to "copyright".


Japanese Art of the Edo Period - Christine Guth
The Great Artists - A Marshall Cavendish Weekly Collection

Monday, February 25, 2008

JADE: More Shodou Images


Japanese calligraphy, shodou, is an art form using brush and black ink to write Japanese and Chinese characters. It is similar to the decorative calligraphy of the West, but is more deeply rooted as a fine art form, in part because every character has meaning and because of the great diversity of character shapes. Shodou is increasingly admired by Japanese and foreigners alike.

Because Japan didn’t have its own written language, they began copying Chinese calligraphy around the sixth century. However, this proved unsuccesful, as the Japanese and Chinese languages are completely unrelated. The Japanese language is actualy an Altaic language, related to Turkish.

Throughout the next several centuries, the Japanese made many adaptations and changes to the calligraphy. By the middle of the 12th century it had evolved into both Chinese characters and phonetics that was a more cursive, flowing, abbreviated and decorative script.

The Japanese calligraphers over the centuries had learnt more than just the Chinese language and its sytem of ideographic characters. They also adapted Chinese caligraphy to their own esthetics.

The Japanese then bagean using some Chinese characters to express sounds without regard for their meanings, to phonetically record Jaoanese words.

There are three basic style: kaisho, gyousho, and sousho.

Kaisho literally means “correct writing”. This is the style in which each of the strokes is made in a deliberate and clear way.

Gyousho literally means “traveling writing” and refers to the semi-cursive style of Japanese calligraphy.

Sousho means “grass writing” and refers to the flowing cursive style of calligraphy.