Lanterns showcase

Lanterns showcase

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Felix Wong
Two mainland artists are bringing the bright lights to Hong Kong with designs inspired by centuries-old tradition, writes Wong Yat-hei

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, Sun Yuen Long Centre is putting on a display with lanterns created by mainland artists Wan Ming and Yang Jian.

Both artists are from Zigong, Sichuan, which is known as the 'Lantern Town in the South Kingdom' due to its historical fame countrywide, and now internationally, as a lantern-making centre.

The highlight is a 4-metre-long, 2-metre-tall dragon lantern assembled from more than 10,000 pieces of chinaware, including, cups, plates, bowls and spoons.

Yang said it took a team of more than 10 skilled workers a month to build the dragon.

'Using chinaware to build a dragon expresses the beauty of traditional Chinese culture,' he said, adding that it was the best piece he had contributed to the exhibition.

Yang has been making lanterns for 16 years and thinks it is a tradition that needs to be passed on. But he says he is confident this will happen given the increasing popularity of the centuries-old art form.

'Designing lanterns is all about having new ideas,' he said. 'You need to think out of the box to create impressive pieces. I've made lanterns from old CDs and pieces of glass and they turned out nicely. Making use of old material has inspired my designs.'

Wan, whose panda and dinosaur lanterns are also exhibition highlights, said the tradition gave him room to explore his creativity.

'There are no limits in lantern design,' he said. 'I can stretch my imagination, but I'm never completely satisfied with my work ... I don't consider any of my lanterns a masterpiece. This attitude helps me to keep improving.'

Wan has been making lanterns for 23 years, since he was 18. He was inspired by his parents, who are both in the construction industry.

He described the tradition as a 'very unique form of art', adding that the important thing was concentrating on contrasting colours to make the finished product as visually stunning as possible.

According to Wan, Zigong lanterns are not only renowned on the mainland but have become sought after worldwide. Not so long ago, lantern makers in Zigong only had domestic orders and only ahead of the Lunar New Year, but now there are orders from countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and many others. In 2006, Wan took part in a successful lantern show in Los Angeles.

But he says lantern making requires hard work. The hours are long and working overnight is common, especially when there is a deadline to meet. It is also physically demanding, as it involves hard labour, such as lifting and welding.

Lanterns need metal frameworks to support the lighting and the other materials.

Wan says the metal infrastructure is delicate and needs to be welded with great care. Because the parts are small, welders have to hold the metal in one hand and weld with the other. They wear goggles to protect their eyes, and the welders' faces are blackened by the heat.

'Whenever you are working you look as if you have not washed your face for a year,' he said. 'You'll have a black face for weeks to come.'

From now until October 11, visitors can see the work of the two famous lantern masters at the Sun Yuen Long Centre.

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