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2014 Explore Asia: Objects From Asia Exhibitions

Object for the Month of December 2014
Furoshiki: Japanese Wrapping Cloth

Dec Installation Photofuroshikifuroshiki

Photos by Eric Stiller

Gift presentation is an important part of gift giving in Japan, in fact, if a gift is not wrapped properly, it is considered a grave social faux pas. A method of proper presentation is to wrap the gift in a beautiful Japanese wrapping cloth called furoshiki. Furoshiki have been used by the Japanese since the Heian Period (794 - 1184 A.D) and is considered to be an item that represents Japanese culture. Furoshiki are essentially square pieces of cloth which come in an unbelievable variety of colors and patterns. They are typically decorated with beautiful motives of natural objects or abstract patterns bringing an element of nature into life. For formal occasions, it is traditional to use furoshiki that is made of silk. Today, furoshiki can be found made in cotton, rayon, polyester, nylon, and some other recycled materials. Thanks to the flexibility of the fabrics uses, it can be used to wrap anything. It is also multifunctional, as it can be used as a scarf, shawl, hood, obi (sash for Japanese traditional dress), blanket, napkin, cover, curtain, bag, and in many other ways. In addition, the quality and usage of furoshiki shows the sincerity and consideration of the gift-giver. Yet still, this fabric of antiquity has begun disappearing into the abyss of the past. One could say furoshiki is a symbolic object for the Japanese; retaining a strong element of tradition while blending seamlessly with modernity.

Eva Nagase, Lecturer of Asian and Asian American Studies



Object for the Month of November 2014
Puppets From Asia

Nov Installation PhotopuppetspuppetspuppetspuppetspuppetsNov Installation Photo

Photos by Zifei Wu

Theatre is an important social institution in Asia, and the living traditions of shadow puppetry hold particular historical and cultural significance. Although there are numerous indoor theatres in Asia, outdoor performances are more common during festivals, temple fairs, and religious celebrations. Village performances are often informal and may last hours past nightfall. Musicians and singers often appear alongside puppeteers, performing traditional music or interpreting more contemporary tunes on modern instruments.

Puppeteers perform and narrate a tremendous range and variety of stories, including epics, ancient and contemporary folk tales, and political satiric fables that may even carry propaganda. Through the voices of their puppets, performers are able to poke fun at characters of high social standing, including kings and queens, religious leaders, and government officials.

Asian puppets vary in size, type, modes of construction, and manipulation and are classified into four basic types: shadow puppets; string puppets or marionettes; stick or rod puppets; and hand or glove puppets.

Caroline Borderies, Puppetry Artist



Two Tales from Southeast Asia by Caroline Borderies
Saturday, November 1, 2014, 4PM
Charles B. Wang Center Theatre

Made By Hand: Shadow Puppet Making Workshop
Saturday, November 1, 2014, 2:30-3:30 PM


Object for the Month of October 2014
Oil Signs from South Korea at the Dawn of the Modern Era

victory oil sign

SOCONY (with Korean word “Victory”)
The Standard Oil Company of New York, or SOCONY
Collection of Modern Design Museum, Seoul, South Korea

texas oil sign

Collection of Modern Design Museum, Seoul, Korea

Fossil-based fuels were first used in Korea in the 1880s, near the end of the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910). As part of their efforts to modernize and Westernize their county, members of the Enlightenment Party (Korean: 개화당, or Gaehwadang) visited Japan and returned with Western goods including oil lamps and matches. These oil lamps were a vast improvement over those used for lighting in most Korean homes before this time: the older lamps relied on a natural plant-based fuel that was inefficient and difficult to obtain. Instead, these newer Western lamps used oil imported from John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil (US), who operated in Korea under the trademark Victory (Korean: 승 리 , or Seungri). The company charged low prices to Korean farmers, encouraging them to switch from vegetable oil to kerosene.

After Standard Oil was ruled an illegal monopoly in 1911 and ordered to break into smaller companies, some of its successors, including the Standard Oil Company of New York (or SOCONY), continued to export oil to South Korea. SOCONY retained the “Victory” trademark and also introduced the Pegasus symbol, which suggested imagination, power, and speed. The flying horse was first colored red by an artist at the Mobil Sekiyu division in Japan and was updated again in the 1930s by commercial illustrator Robert “Rex” Elmer. Since that time, there have been small progressive changes to the rendering of the red Pegasus, but the symbol itself has remained strong, and is still used today by SOCONY’s successor, ExxonMobil.

By the 1920s, competitors such as Texaco (USA) and Shell (UK) had also entered the Korean market. Shell had long been part of the East Asian oil market: the company name appeared first in 1891 as the trademark for the kerosene being shipped to the “Far East” by London’s Marcus Samuel and Company. By 1904, the distinctive red and yellow scallop shell had been introduced as a manifestation of both the corporation and the brand name.

The four oil signs that were on display here date back to the 1930s in Korea, during the Japanese Occupation (1910-45). Even before World War II reached the Pacific Theater (1941-45), these and other international companies were engaged in intense competition for dominance of the Korean oil market.

Arm-Jong Park, Director of Modern Design Museum, Seoul, South Korea


Oct installation shot

Installation View, Photo by Zifei Wu

Object for the Month of September 2014
Caffeinated Asia: Coffee from Vietnam

Sept Installation Photo

Installation View, Photo by Zifei Wu

Coffee is to the West as tea is to the East. When one thinks of Asian culture and its associated beverage, tea immediately comes to mind. Not many people would link an Asian nation with coffee; yet, the second largest producer of coffee in the world is Vietnam, with Indonesia being third. Introduced to Vietnam in 1857 during the French colonization, coffee slowly grew to become Vietnam’s most valued exported agricultural product, second only to rice. Exporting more than 1 million tons of coffee beans per year, Vietnam is the number one producer of coffee in Asia. Therefore, it would come as no surprise that there is also a thriving Vietnamese coffee culture. Walking through the streets of Vietnam, you will see people drinking cups of coffee rather than cups of tea. In response, coffee houses and road side stalls sprouted up to meet the increasing demands of this thriving culture.

However, unlike in Western culture where coffee is mostly taken on-the-go, in Vietnam, having coffee is a slow-paced affair, much like drinking tea. People sit down to enjoy their cup of coffee rather than ordering it to go in a styrofoam cup. This leisure of drinking coffee is also enhanced by the way Vietnamese coffee is prepared. Vietnamese coffee is typically brewed through a small drip filter called a phin, a device that sits on top of a coffee cup with small holes on the bottom to allow for the coffee to drip down. This method to brewing allows for the coffee to steep in the grounds for the right amount of time despite the filter’s small volume. Meanwhile, the cup under the filter already contains sweetened condensed milk, which is the prefered way to drink coffee in Vietnam. The leisure pace in which to drink coffee in no way reflects the coffee production in Vietnam. Numbers continue to grow as Vietnam’s coffee culture continues to develop new ways to cultivate their increasing supply which in turn feeds the growing demand, not just in Vietnam, but all over the world.

Li Shan Liang, Graphic Designer

Object for the Month of May 2014
Moon Cakes and Their Wooden Molds

Moon cake molds

Installation view, Photo by Zifei Wu

The Chinese adore and eat moon cake delicacies. They consume them as a slice or a small wedge of one moon cake, and they enjoy them shared with family and friends during the important holiday they know as the Mid-Autumn Festival; Zhongquijie in Chinese. This event is one of their most important celebrations, second only to their New Year holiday that is also known as Spring Festival. Both of these festivals are Lunar calendar holidays.

During this festival they eat these thick dense pastries that can be filled with lotus seed, red bean paste, red date paste, or five different nuts and seeds. Each moon cake is wrapped in a thin crust, its center often are filled with the yolk of a salted duck egg. The top of this delicacy can be imprinted with Chinese characters that can say ‘longevity’ or the name of the filling. Some of these moon cakes might have a picture of Lady Chang-e, the Moon Goddess of Immortality; or it might be a rabbit, the animal that is the symbol of the moon. Made and stuffed in these wooden molds, they are shaped and banged out of them, then set on a baking sheet. Their tops are brushed them with oil, then baked. Different regions of China do make different fillings. Their skins or outsides are made with lard. These days they even have vegetarian ones.

This Mid-Autumn holiday festival is celebrated on its 15th day of the 8th lunar month. It was named during the Song Dynasty, circa 420 CE. Some say these cakes were used during the Yuan Dynasty; at that time they were used with messages smuggled in them. Their purpose was to overthrow the country’s Mongolian rulers.

Not just limited to China, some other Asian countries use these pastries. The Vietnamese use them often, but the Chinese most often. The Chinese buy them in beautiful boxes of four, the Vietnamese in boxes of two. People rarely make their own moon cakes. They purchase them more often because it is complicated to make ones own, also very time consuming. Rare, also, is the person who carves their own moon cake mold. Special visitors can be honored with beautiful carved ones as gifts. Many of the ones people own have been held for most of their entire adult lifetime.

The wood they are made with is heavy and dense, as are the pastries shaped in them. Most are made with hawthorn or litchi wood, some of olive wood. We know only two cookbooks that solely feature stories about and recipes for this pastry. One is by Alan Ooi, the other by Ms. Choong Su Yin; and both are paperbacks. Each has about one hundred pages, they are in Chinese and English, and they include recipes for cookies and moon cakes made in them. They also share how to make their exterior skins and their fillings.

The first bakery in the USA to make this Autumn holiday food was in San Francisco and called Eastern Bakery. Nowadays, many Chinese and other Asian bakeries sell them year-round. One finds the greatest variety of moon cakes in the Fall. Do buy and try them sliced in small pieces as the Chinese do.

Jacqueline M. Newman, Editor of Flavor and Fortune

Object for the Month of April 2014

North Korean Comic Book: Mighty Wing!

North Korean comic books of the Mighty Wing era were produced quite explicitly to teach children the “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung’s ideology of Juche, or “self-reliance.” North Korean writers and artists, since they must work under state supervision, are all required to apply the rules of Juche in their work by state mandate.

Mighty Wing was published in 1994, the year of Kim Il Sung’s death. At that time, the drought conditions in North Korea were becoming common knowledge in the outside world and the DPRK was receiving hundreds of thousands of tons of food and tens of millions of dollars in aid. The famine in North Korea was devastating. The consistent pattern flooding and drought caused by climate change ultimately resulted in the deaths of more than a quarter of a million people as reported by the DPRK (some estimates say the true figure is up to three million). By the late 1990s, only half the population had safe drinking water.

The allegorical story in Mighty Wing is about heroic bees surviving through cooperation and resource preservation, despite the constant threat of outsiders. It shows that the DPRK was well aware of the necessity for irrigation and for replenishing a depleting food supply—so much so that it became a theme in a popular children’s comic book. Since the publication date is 1994, it is likely that the book was produced in 1993, reflecting the concerns of the regime just prior to Kim Il Sung’s death in July of 1994. That time period is also especially significant, because it means that Mighty Wing was probably one of the comic books most influential on the young Kim Jong-un, Kim Il-sung’s grandson, the current leader of the DPRK. Perhaps examining it can give us insight into some of the ideological content of his mind.

Heinz Insu Fenkl, Associate Professor of English, State University of New York, New Paltz

   explore history exhibition

Mighty Wing!
Published in 1994 by Gold Star Children’s Press
Cho Pyŏng-Kwon (Story) / Im Wal-Yong (Art)

  • Mighty Wing exhibit: Installation View
  • Mighty Wing exhibit: Installation View
  • Mighty Wing exhibit: Installation View
  • Mighty Wing exhibit: Installation View
  • Mighty Wing exhibit: Installation View
  • Sample page: "Mighty Wing"
  • Sample page: "Mighty Wing"
  • "Mighty Wing" Cover (Original)
  • "Mighty Wing" Sample Translation
  • "Mighty Wing" Sample Translation
  • "Mighty Wing" Sample Translation
  • "Mighty Wing" Sample Translation
  • "Mighty Wing" Cover (Translated)

Object for the Month of March 2014
Veils: A Multiplicity of Meanings

Head coverings, for both men and women, are an important part of tradition and traditional dress for many international cultures. Among these head coverings, however, none has been the focus of more debate in recent years than the veils and other head coverings worn by Islamic women. Carrying with them the weight and value of social, cultural, political, religious, and even nationalistic codes and taboos, the veil often elicits responses of curiosity, confusion, or fear from Western, non-Muslim observers. Even in some predominantly Muslim countries, the veil has been at the center of complex mainstream debates. As early as the 1920s in Turkey and Egypt, for example, modernization and advancement were associated with European values and practices, and women were therefore encouraged to unveil as a sign of progress and "civilization." In that context, "to veil" was perceived as implying inferiority or "otherness."  

Historically, secular societies have interpreted the veil as representing confinement, repression or exclusion. Contrary to these interpretations, however, many women now wear the veil as a matter of choice rather than of obligation. For these women, to wear the veil is to resist perceived Western encroachment, to express their faith, and to participate in society and the workplace. In the United States, this very visible symbol affirms the wearers' connections to specific communities, geography, heritages and people, sometimes challenging our notions and perceptions of what it is to be a diverse, inclusive society.

Lauren Kaushansky, Department of History, Professional Education Program 

   explore history exhibition


Stony Brook Student Aneela Ashraf with the March 2014 Objects from Asia Exhibit


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