Bringing Tradition to the States, Chinese Residents Introduce Asian Art, Music to Tallahassee

With a few strokes of a calligraphy brush, Florida A&M art professor Nan Liu brought the ancient Chinese art to life in front of an eager crowd of observers.

In one quick motion, he dipped the brush in a dish of black ink, slashed the sheet of  thin paper and copied several Chinese characters from a book of work from a master calligrapher. He told the crowd that the art centers on the mastery of replicating the styles of past artists.

“In China,” he said, the focus was first on “copying before we create our own.” Then he demonstrated how to create art, slashing green, red and white paint together to form a brightly colored flower in front of the audience, a mix
of young children, teenagers and older people.

Watching the art being made, his audience cheered. Many asked for personalized calligraphy designs. Some other just wanted to know how they could learn the art.

That, Liu said, was the goal of the Chinese Art Exhibition Friday night at FAMU’s Foster-Tanner Fine Arts Complex: To expose Tallahassee residents to Chinese art and music in a unique exhibition.

“[With] Chinese culture, we have to introduce it, if no one introduces the new culture, no one knows it, right?” said Liu, who organized and curated the event.

It was a night filled with activity: Liu’s wife, Hai Qiong Deng, expertly played traditional music on the Gu Zheng, a Chinese stringed instrument that resembles a harp lying flat. Chinese fan dancers displayed the theater and art of their culture. Also, local martial artists performed competition-class tai chi.

Inside Foster-Tanner Art Gallery hung dozens of paintings, featuring messages in Chinese and depicting sweeping landscapes and imposing portraits. It was a snapshot of Chinese tradition brought to this enclave in Tallahassee. Many of the pieces were from acclaimed artist Ye Xu Xuan of the Zhu Jia Calligraphy Institute.

President of the Tallahassee Chinese Association E Shen said he hopes to make the event annual and wants to promote it more in the future.

“It was a pleasure to see this many people come here… we weren’t expecting this many,” said Shen. “This is a first as far as we know for the city.”

He was referring to the nearly 60 people who crowded both floors of the gallery for Friday’s opening reception. Shen lauded the turnout, saying that Liu and fellow organizers had little more than three weeks to prepare for the exhibition — a feat that usually requires double the time.

Gallery curator Aja Roache said a June exhibition was rare for the gallery and that she was excited to help share art and culture with the community. The purpose of the gallery, she said, is to expose people who are interested in art with a diverse flavor, and at the exhibition, she added: “What it means to us is fulfilling our mission as a teaching gallery.”

Florida State student Stephanie Gonsales said she thought the exhibition’s use of art, music and martial arts performance was “very cohesive and central to the essential parts of Chinese culture.”

“I felt really happy to know that Chinese culture is being preserved from the mainland, yet I love seeing how it integrates with U.S. culture and seeing different people of different ethnicities participate in these activities,” she said.

Another FSU student, Kindo Lee, said he appreciated that flavor of the event that it was just right in his mind.
“I like the art… it’s nothing too extravagant; it gets the point across,” Lee said.

Liu said he wants Tallahassee’s youngest residents — some of whom are participating in FAMU’s annual Horizons summer art camp — to develop a deeper understanding of the world through sharing art.

“We hope these will open eyes [for] the kids, so when they see this, they will say, ‘There’s a different culture outside
the U.S.’ that might help them later to understand global culture,” he said.

Organizers hope to make the Chinese art exhibition an annual event. They plan to request grants for next and upcoming years to expand the performances.

The exhibition remains on view at the gallery until June 22. It is free to the public. For more information, contact
Roache at (850) 599-8755 or e-mail