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Your chance to delve into Chinese arts

A child reads 'The White Snake' which is based an old Chinese folk tale.  |  Supplied phocourtesy Smart

A child reads "The White Snake," which is based on an old Chinese folk tale. | Supplied photo courtesy of Smart Museum of Art

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Updated: June 2, 2014 12:06PM



With thousands of years of history, the culture and arts of China are rich and fascinating.

“Envisioning China” is a festival of art, music, film, presentations and performances based on Chinese culture. The festival continues into June and is focused at the University of Chicago, with links to other upcoming events around the city.

On Saturday, the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago will host “About Face,” a free family program. This event focuses on masks and face painting in the tradition of Chinese opera, in conjunction with the museum’s current exhibit, “Performing Images,” on display through June 15.

The exhibit examines how characters and stories have been represented in Chinese opera and beyond, and includes more than 70 works of art and artifacts, some dating back 700 years, including scrolls, paintings of stage makeup, costumes, instruments, photographs and decorative items with opera-related images.

“With the family program we hope to pull children of all ages, adults and even grandparents in to view the art of the exhibit,” museum associate programs manager Erik Peterson said. “And then, since most of us don’t have personal experience with the context of Chinese opera, we want to give viewers a toehold into the concept through storytelling, art activities and in-depth tours on Family Day.”

Peterson also is the creator of an illustrated children’s book, “The White Snake,” based on a popular Chinese folktale that dates back about a thousand years. The tale has been the subject of Chinese opera and is depicted through several objects on display in the exhibit as well as a video clip of an opera performance.

“But the exhibit doesn’t tell the entire story, and we thought that might be interesting for families to have and take home,” Peterson said. “ ‘White Snake’ has characters who morph and change, and adventure, love, star-crossed lovers, friendship and loyalty.”

Free copies of the book are available to families visiting the “Performing Images” exhibit at the museum.

“This will specifically connect with our next Family Day (June 7). We’ll tell ‘The White Snake’ story out loud and have families make puppets to take home,” Peterson said.

Family Day at the museum is from 1 to 4 p.m. the first Saturday of each month, and consists of free drop-in programs designed for a range of ages of children accompanied by an adult.

There are also a number of other upcoming programs related to “Envisioning China” and Chinese culture.

The Goodman Theater will have performances of “The White Snake” from Saturday through June 8. Ticket prices range from $17.50 to $86, with limited $10 same-day student tickets when available. For tickets, visit www.goodmantheatre.org.

At 3 p.m. May 18, “Earth and Wood,” the second of four in the Five Elements Project concert series, will be performed at the Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. This free program is presented by the Chinese Fine Arts Society, which promotes the rich spectrum of Chinese culture and arts.

The program will feature music by Chinese composers inspired by earth and wood, and performed on both Western instruments and traditional Chinese instruments.

One of those Chinese instruments, the pipa, a four-stringed instrument sometimes called the Chinese lute, will be featured in a free concert at the Smart Museum of Art at 2 p.m. June 1. The performer will be one of China’s best pipa players, Lan Weiwei. A brief gallery talk about a beautiful pipa on display in the “Performing Images” exhibit will precede the performance.

A free, curator-led tour of the “Performing Images” exhibit will be offered at noon June 7.

For more information on these and on films, lectures and other “Envisioning China” events, visit arts.uchicago.edu/envisioning-china.



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