An Evening with the Dragons: A Special Edition for International Women’s Day 2024

This article is written with reflections from my visit to artist Xiang Li’s exhibit, commemorating International Women’s Day. You will learn more about traditional Chinese silk watercolor paintings displayed at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

I would like to dedicate this blog post to the mother-daughter team, Xiang Li and Fei Wu, who are behind ‘Xiang Li Art’ (seen as @xiangliart on social media), an initiative to bring Xiang Li’s massive art projects in traditional Chinese watercolors to a much broader audience in the United States and worldwide.

International Women’s Day 2024 – A Day Of Heritage

Xiang Li Art in Hardvard, celebrating International Women's Day
Xiang Li (right) and me

Li has been an established and well-known traditional Chinese watercolor artist in China for 40 years. She decided to move to Boston permanently five years ago to be close to her daughter, Fei. It is extremely inspiring for me to see how Li is re-establishing herself as an artist here in the United States after leaving behind a cherished and successful career in China.

With tireless support and encouragement from her daughter Fei, she is successfully navigating her artistic journey across geographies, cultures, languages, and artistic styles. Her goal for her artistic pursuits in this new phase of her career is to connect meaningfully with a new audience by bringing them joy and new learnings through her art. This was beautifully on display at her first public event at Harvard Museums on February 29, 2024.

As part of the Harvard Museum’s Art Thursdays program in Cambridge Massachusetts, they invited Li to showcase her artwork with a focus on dragons and traditional Chinese silk watercolor paintings. The theme for the museum’s February event was ‘Year of the Dragon at the Museums’, for Chinese New Year 2024. Needlessly to say it was the perfect theme for Li’s artwork since dragons feature very prominently in her paintings and it was a perfect venue for her series of paintings called ‘Chinese Dragons through the ages’.

As part of this particular series, Li showcased 9 original paintings that demonstrated the evolution in representation of the dragon in Chinese art and culture through the last 2000 years. This particular painting series was very befitting of the theme of the museum of ‘natural history’ and all the visitors were very visibly fascinated to see this unique evolution through her paintings.

In addition to the dragon paintings, Xiang Li also showcased two large silk panels from her series of Chinese Empress paintings from the Song and Qing dynasties, they are part of Li’s collection featuring over 200 Chinese Empresses based on her extensive research from historical texts and conversations with experts. This project has taken her 12 years so far and expects to complete it by the end of 2024.

Some of these empresses lived long, fruitful lives and ruled China for a lifetime, while others died young with short-lived fortunes. Irrespective of their lifespans, each one of them is a very good example of leadership befitting their times. See my last blogpost for some of the most influential Chinese empresses.

On this International Women’s Day, Li’s Empress collection serves as a beautiful ode to these unsung women heroes and a reminder of the fact that these empresses played an equally important role in society, as much as the celebrated emperors.

These engaging silk panels brought up many questions and conversations from the audience. Some of these conversations were around interesting topics like:

  • What is the significance of the big AND small dragons in the paintings?
  • Why are some of the empresses painted in black & white while others are so colorful?

If you want to find out more about the answers to these or if you would like to view Xiang Li’s Empress collection, you can visit her next event at JMAC in Worcester MA.

My parting thought on the Harvard Museum of Natural History

This was my first visit to the Harvard Museum of Natural History and I got a chance to see some of the other Harvard-owned exhibits at the museum while I was there for Xiang Li’s event. One of my most memorable experiences was viewing the Glass Flowers exhibit. I have been hearing about this exotic glass collection ever since I lived in the Boston area but did not get a chance to visit it until now. It is a fascinating collection of glass flowers and plants (4300 models!) that were hand-made by a team of father and son glass artists from Germany from 1887 through 1936. It strikes me as a sweet coincidence that this world-famous glass exhibit was a ‘father and son’ collaboration, similar to the ‘mother and daughter’ collaboration event that I was there for! This collection is truly a hidden gem and I would highly recommend it for the artistically and scientifically inclined!

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