Bat Cave. Two words I’ve mostly heard followed by another two: Bat Man.
Not this time.
This time it was ‘Asia Society’.
For those of you not familiar with the Asia Society, it is an incredible organisation dedicated to promoting the mutual understanding and strengthening of partnerships among peoples, leaders and institutions of Asia and the United States in a global context.
I’ve been a fan of the Asia Society for a long time. Effectively since I did my Master’s dissertation on China’s Ming Fleets. So when I was in Hong Kong a few weeks ago, I paid Asia Society’s Hong Kong Centre a visit.
There I found Bat Cave: Treasures of the Day and Creatures of the Night, an exquisite exhibition of Chinese Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasty ceramics, jade cravings, paintings and textiles all decorated with – you guessed it – bats!
Although bats may seem like an unusual curatorial theme, they are an auspicious symbol in Chinese culture and have been since the early Ming Dynasty. The bat motif is used regularly in Chinese art to convey blessings to people as the Chinese characters for ‘bat’ and ‘blessing’ share the same sound. Multiple bats; multiple blessings. Five bats, for instance, are put together to represent the ‘Five Blessings’ held dear to Chinese people: longevity, wealth, health, a virtuous life, and a natural death.
Bats can also be used to create more complex meanings when combined with other motifs. Bats, Magu (a Daoist goddess), deer and cranes can all join together to bring blessings, fortune and longevity (as above). When a red bat is set among rainbow-hued clouds, the intention is to bring especially good luck and we all know, the Chinese love their luck!
There are hidden meanings everywhere within these objects. The trick is that they are sometimes very, very difficult to see! This is challenging enough in a museum context (as below), but almost impossible whilst excavating underwater!!
Bat Cave really was an unexpected delight that would please even the greatest Sino-phobe. I am certainly not into bats, but the objects were magnificent, the surroundings pleasant and the exhibition beautifully curated. What more do you want?
Bat Cave was co-organised by Asia Society Hong Kong Center and the Art Museum, Institute of Chinese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Bat Cave: Treasures of the Day and Creatures of the Night and held at the Chantal Miller Gallery, Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty, Hong Kong.