The symbolism of the tiger in the eyes of the Nations of Wind

The symbol of the tiger is represented in several traditions, which are also intertwined at times. First of all, the tiger is a symbol of strength and power,  driving  away evil forces and bringing wealth, success, and  also healing .The tiger is associated with the yin principle, hence symbolizes the west side and determines the divide between east and west directions. The tiger stands for forcefulness, predatory powers and self-discipline. Tigers help the Chinese gods and legendary heroes. For example,  Sun Simiao, a doctor practicing traditional Chinese medicine in Sui and Tang dynasty is depicted sitting on a tiger fighting a dragon.  According to legends,some heroes were themselves  reincarnated from the tiger. From the perspective of Feng Shui, the tiger is a symbol of protection, which is being installed so that his gaze is directed out of the room.
For the Fire Nations,  the tiger is a vicarious symbol, since in European countries the tiger no longer lives freely and  can only be seen in captivity. This does not mean, however, that the symbolism of the tiger is not represented . Generally speaking, in the European context, it represents primarily a symbol of strength and energy. It is one of the objectives of this project to introduce it in the wider context and in relation to the nations of the wind.

Despite the tiger’s power , it should be protected. It could happen that with the tiger’s disappearance we could loose our health and energy.

Fire and wind is an exhibition of contemporary Czech artists mainly from the middle generation. We believe that this exhibition will help to deepen cultural relations between Europe and Asia, especially with mainland China. Nowadays, business relations between Western world and China are often emphasized, but it should be pointed out that cultural exchange between these regions has much longer tradition and historical background. Cultural exchange was established mainly by scholars in Chinese studies. We should not forget to mention considerate contribution of Czech specialists in Chinese studies that helped to enhance interest in Chinese culture (i.e. thanks to translations of texts by Daozi or recently published Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian in Czech language). Czech art and architecture with its roots in Judaism that later transformed into Christianity is essential part of European culture. On European continent encounters with Chinese art were at first rather random than systematic. Art pieces from East Asia brought to Europe by travelers were viewed as curiosities rather than objects of art. Situation in Czech kingdom was rather similar. Art from China was adorned at the king’s court and by aristocracy, but the message of these art pieces was not fully understood. This goes for not only for enameled ceramics from Tang dynasty, but even more significantly for calligraphic writing and traditional paintings. Use of these art pieces for meditation and contemplation remained to be a mystery at those times. With the rise of baroque and rococo style in Czech region and Europe, Chinese and Japanese symbols became huge inspiration for decorative art (Chinoserie, Japonism).  During the art nouveau period the use of Asia-inspired ornaments came into popularity again.

Since nineteen century Chinese calligraphy and traditional paintings were highly popular in Czech region (especially ink paintings of Wang Wei). Chinese literature about criticism and art theory was also hugely in demand at that time (in German, French and Russian translations). As it was already stated, high level of Chinese studies in Czech has helped to introduce Chinese art not only to specialist but also to masses. Moreover, political situation changed in second half of 20th century in countries of Central and Eastern Europe and this region became politically attached to dictature of Soviet Union through ruling communist parties. Soviet Union has thus influenced political orientation of its satellites. According to Soviet propaganda friendly relations between Czechoslovakia and People’s Republic of China had to be established and flourished. Interestingly this step was supported by Czechoslovak artists. Explanation for this interest can be the fact that Chinese art was refreshing element in propagandistic nature of Soviet culture. Czechoslovak artists were allowed to visit mainland China. The outcomes of these visits were rather perplexing for the communist party. The artists were not adorning the socialist realism as they were expected, but they were rather impressed by Chinese avant-garde that was not on the list of official propaganda. At that time Chinese [avant-garde] painting was admired for its use of imagination to create poetry on canvas. Especially paintings of Qi Beishe were looked up as a great example of expression of freedom throughout its art form.

As it was already discussed above, those impulses have influenced especially generation of artists that could have freely express their opinions only around 1960s. This generation was inclining to world’s avant-garde that included also Chinese inspiration. Following generations were sharing similar views and have even strengthened their opinions after return [of Czechoslovakia] to democratic system. Artists participating in this project are highly valued for their work by gallery owners and art collectors. What makes this exhibition special is the common theme of a tiger, a symbol that is worshiped in Chinese society. Each artist deals this symbol from completely different point of view. It wouldn’t be suitable to discuss each artist in details, so let me point out just few interesting facts. Few artists working on this project have tried to understood tiger as a part of a myth that is embodied in traditional imagination (T. Císařovský, P. Pasterňak, M. Chloupa), for some artists tiger is a fairy-tale like figure (St. Kolíbal), while others incline to mysterious representation (V.Véla, M.Kunc, J.Knap); and some artists were fascinated by the dignity of a tiger in his actions (J.Pištěk, A. Střížek, V. Kopecký). Also it is very interesting to see this motive made in molten glass by V. Klumparová or in porcelain by B. Nosek. We believe that the audience will see this collection as homage of Czech artists to the greatly admired and inspirational Asian culture.”

                                         Jiří Šetlík (art historian, in Prague 2013)