Tapei Fine Arts Museum

Yesterday I visited the Taipei Fine Arts Museum for a photography exhibit celebrating 100 years of Taiwan, which was established in 1911: Eye of the Times; Centennial Images of Taiwan.

The exhibit was free, as is (I think) the entire permanent collection at the museum. There were many exhibits, not just photography but also painting and architecture and probably more, but with only two hours to spare I saw primarily only photographs, and even then only about three-quarters of the nearly 300 images on display at the Centennial Images of Taiwan exhibit.

My favorite images were those from the 1950s, when Taiwan had freed itself from Japan. Despite the current geopolitical complexity of the relationship between Taiwan and China, the '50s were a time of post-WWII celebration, with Taiwan embracing its return to Chinese rule. The 1950s were also a time of martial law, which wasn't lifted in Taiwan until 1987.

Two of my favorite photographs were shot by Lin Chuan-tsu (born 1922): "Carrying children by bicycle through the fields" (1956), and "Making flags by the river" (1960), the later of which showed a man with a long stretch of fabric, to be cut later into individual flags, onto which the man emblazoned the white sun onto the symbolic blue sky and red earth of Taiwan's flag.

Both were silver prints, produced and printed optically in a darkroom rather than digitally, so they lack the artificial sharpness of many if not most modern photographs. There were also many photographs that were even softer in their edges, turn-of-the-century affairs made with primitive cameras showing Taiwan's aborigines, as well as its culture under Japanese rule.

Two more favorites:

The first showed two men dressed as Qiye and Baye, two mythical ghosts who have long haunted the dreams of Taiwanese children. The photograph was taken at a street parade in the 1920s by an artist whose name I can't recall. Per tradition, one of the ghosts is short, fat and black (Baye, I think) whereas his best friend Qiye is tall, white and skinny.

The final photograph I'll mention was the most haunting of all. It was taken by Wu Jin-miao (1915-1987) and dated both 1935/1945, which probably means that the actual date is unknown or that it was taken in 1935 and printed in 1945. Given the subject matter, my best guess is that the photograph, titled "Girl holding a gas mask," is from WWII, and it was best described by the Taiwanese girl alongside me who viewed the wallet-size image, and said, "She put on her makeup, but she is holding a gas mask; maybe a flower is better."