The Tiger in Asian Art, a major exhibition at Asia House in London, features fine and contemporary art spanning the last 3,000 years. Visitors to the exhibition will see rare Asian paintings, sculptures, textiles and photographs, including many previously unseen works from the British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum and private collections.
The treasures assembled by the exhibition’s curators date from the 1st Century BC to the modern and contemporary periods with exhibits originating from China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma and the Mongolian steppes. The exhibition reveals the way in which the tiger is feared, revered and used as a vital and enduring symbol of power and protection throughout Asia.
Asia House is at 63, New Cavendish Street in London and the exhibition lasts till Feb 12.
Left: Hokusai, Tiger in a Snowstorm, Painting on silk, Japan, 1849, Private Collection
The renowned Japanese artist, Hokusai (1760-1849) painted this magnificent painting in his ninetieth and final year. It depicts an aged tiger battling effortlessly through deep snow, in the midst of a blizzard; reminiscent of Hokusai’s own situation in the winter of life. Although physically weak, the artist was said to be spiritually strong and imbued with the inner strength of a charging tiger. In addition, the tiger in Zen symbolism represents one on a spiritual path, buffeted by obstructions to enlightenment.
Hunting has always been the sport of kings and emperors, as well as training for warfare. Mughal emperors took part in hunts which lasted for days and were conducted on a grandiose military scale, but for the Hindu Rajputs hunting had an even stronger ritualistic social importance. This act of a Maharajah shooting a tiger, elevated his status as a ruler and symbolised the power of his reign. The tiger although dead is depicted as an animal of great beauty, with elegant pinwheel wounds.
James Ivory Collection
This work shows a tiger caught in a trap, its tail escaping the top of the net. It is a unique woodcut from a series and is created using ink on handmade paper. It is decorated with black feathers that almost animate the piece when a wind comes through the space in which it is exhibited.
© Zhang Huan Studio, courtesy The Pace Gallery, NY and White Cube, London
This work comes from Zhang Huan’s series, Free Tiger Returns to Mountains, and demonstrates a painting technique he pioneered using ash gathered from incense burnt at Shanghai temples. Produced using a meticulous technique that builds upon the varying textures and tones of individual ash flakes, this large scale work demands such an energetic dispersal of ash that Huan assumes an almost performative element in their creation.
Zhang Huan sees people’s relationship with the nature, and thus the tiger, as essential to their survival. In an increasingly urbanized China, Huan believes it is not only the tiger, but the human too, who is under threat from depleting space and access to the natural world. These works draw a relationship between what is happening in the natural world and the survival of mankind. They ask us to consider out relationship with nature and our own position within a wider context.
This tiger netsuke is no larger than a matchbox. It comes from the collection of contemporary potter Edmund de Waal who inherited it from his great uncle Iggie and appears in his stunningly original memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes.
Ephrussi Collection and Edmund de Waal
The painted scroll in Bengal is known as pata (meaning ‘painting’) and the artist as patua. Brightly coloured scrolls such as this were used as visual aids in story telling, an important component of amusement and education in India . Most illustrated popular myths, religious beliefs and scenes from everyday life. This particular example depicts a folk legend, with two registers highlighting the protective and powerful qualities of the Bengal tiger. The people who live in these mangrove forests of Eastern India , have to learn to live in harmony with this magnificent beast, who is both feared and revered in equal measures.
© V&A Images Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The discipline of yoga has been practised in India for thousands of years, a spiritual practise aimed at li
© The Trustees of the British Museum
The ferocious power of the tiger makes it an ideal protector. A photograph from renowned sociologist Sidney Gamble, who used to visit China collecting data on everyday Chinese life for his publications, taken in the early 20th century will be on display depicting a small child in a tiger costume. Traditionally striped costumes were worn to frighten off evil spirits, demons and ghosts. Even today in China, children are dressed in tiger costumes for protection and to bring health, wealth and happiness the wearer.
Duke University Libraries
Given the significance of the tiger as symbol of strength and courage, it has long been associated with material power and status. The tiger was emblazoned on weapons, uniforms and battle standards, as a symbol of military might and powerful protection. This particular fragment of a Ming military banner depicts a magnificent tiger with bat-like wings surrounded by flame and cloud motifs. It would have originally been triangular shaped with an identical image stitched on the reverse, as a double-sided banner-to frighten the approaching army and to generate bravery amongst the soldiers carrying the standard. Over time it was altered to a rectangular shape by the Tibetans, possibly for use as a throne cover.
Jacqueline Simcox Ltd
An outstanding 3 metres long rug woven in the shape of a tiger pelt from northwestern China, dated 17th or early 18th century. Most Asian tiger rugs date from the late 18th century and are generally associated with Tibetan rather than Chinese craftsmanship, hence this is a very unique example. The low knot density, technique, soft wool and the hues of corroded black and greygreens are all typical of early Qing production. The wear in the middle section of the carpet, indicates that it was used as a seat cover, no doubt for a high spiritual dignitary for whom such carpets were reserved. As with Tibetan examples, the tiger pelt is a metaphor for power and is believed to transmit the tiger’s vital energy. It comes from the Ningxia region of North West China.
John and Fausta Eskanazi