Curator Andrew Bolton brought the tale of Chinese Imperial dress to life in this year’s MET Exhibit 2015, China Through The Looking Glass. The name itself proves peculiar, for it is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s child’s narrative, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.
At a Sunday at the MET Discussion on the exhibit, Bolton explained the method to his madness. At first, the exhibit was supposed to be called, “Whispers,” a reference to the child’s game, “Telephone,” where a group of children sit in a circle and are supposed to recite the same sentence over and over in eachother’s ears. The point of the game is for the sentence to become mistranslated, and thus, a lesson on the importance of listening and hearing. But Bolton did not want this exhibit to be a “mistranslation,” rather, he wanted it to be a tale of “communication and miscommunication across cultures.” Bolton argues that in Carroll’s fairytale, Alice climbs through a mirror, and witnesses a world that is not mistranslated, but is distorted: a perfect way to interpret this abstract concept. And thus, the concept of China Through the Looking Glass was born.
Chinese designer Vivienne Tam is absolutely ecstatic about this celebration of Chinese culture put on by the MET. At the discussion, she reminisced the difficulty of being a Chinese woman in fashion, and recalled others saying to her, “you’ll never be successful because you’re Chinese.” China Through The Looking Glass completely changes this conviction: our era is now a time for Chinese designers to showcase their unique aesthetics. Tam remarked that this is now a time where Chinese artists finally “have a voice.” Tam is right, this exhibit delves much deeper than just costume. China Through the Looking Glass not only exhibits the beauty of Chinese Imperial dress, it also elucidates a narrative of the intersection between east and west. It probes at the tough questions of cultural appropriation, and brings the Chinese culture to life in very raw, real, and beautiful form.
China Through the Looking Glass is unlike many of the MET Costume Exhibits we’ve seen before. The Chinese narrative goes beyond appreciation of aesthetic, it is ultimately, an acceptance of culture. It is truly inspiring that an international museum such as the MET has the ability to bridge this gap, and celebrate the beauty and admiration of China in this form.
Report by Alanna Martine – fashion correspondant NYC