Tang Da Wu
Tang Da Wu was born in 1943. Growing up, he disliked studying English and mathematics and was often scolded by his teachers. He preferred playing after school with neighborhood children, and also enjoyed drawing, gaining further confidence when his high-school paintings were accepted into art competitions.
In 1988, Tang founded the Artists Village, Singapore’s first art colony, with the aim of encouraging experimentation. Members of the Village were among the first non-traditional artists in Singapore, and also among the first to begin practicing installation and performance art. There, Tang has mentored younger artists and shared his knowledge of artistic developments in other parts of the world.
In addition to his work as an artist and activist, Tang teaches art education at the National Institute of Education (NIE). He has expressed great concern for the current state of education, having encountered numerous young adults who are afraid to give the “wrong answer,” and who retreat from experimentation and innovation. He wonders how we can nurture a future generation to be fearless in their pursuit of knowledge and experience, and dreams of setting up a forum on art education to consider ways to support creativity.
Tang works in many mediums including painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, and performance. In Our Children, he refers to a story from Chinese opera in Teochew, a region in South China from which his family hails. The story focuses on the virtue of respect for one’s parents (“filial piety”) and the importance of cultural values, and the artist’s sculpture represents an abstracted baby goat kneeling beneath its mother. The act of suckling is represented by a pitcher of milk that sits atop the steel-and-glass form.
In the Teochew parable, a young boy experiences a humbling moment of enlightenment at the sight of a kneeling baby goat being fed by its mother. In Our Children, the two figures, while seemingly stationary, are also in dynamic tension, and resemble Chinese characters, symbolizing the narrative in spare strokes and lines.
For Tang, aesthetic expression is not only representative but also has the potential to provoke action and change. Our Children demonstrates Tang’s skillful transfiguration of idea into form. He believes in the potential of the individual and the collective to effect social change, and through his art aims to nudge society toward a greater awareness of environmental and social issues.
Tang Da Wu
Show: Our Children
- What is your initial impression of this work? What might it be about?
- Recreate the gestures of the sculpture with your own body. How does it feel to be the larger animal? How does it feel to be the crouching smaller one?
- Although Tang is showing us an abstract sculpture depicting a baby goat kneeling beneath its mother, he has titled the work Our Children. Knowing a bit about Tang’s philosophy and life’s work, what messages do you think he might want to convey?
- Although Tang has pared down the bodies of his subjects to a series of lines, the relationship between them remains perceptible. Take some time to look carefully at the interaction between any two living things—fish in a tank, squirrels in the park, your own pets. You may want to make some quick drawings that capture different moments of interaction. Then, simplify those gestures into a series of intersecting lines by bending and connecting pipe-cleaners to suggest the poses and relationships you have observed. When done, ask classmates to respond to your work. Are they able to sense the interaction you intended?
- Tang has participated in numerous community and public art
projects, workshops, and performances. He believes that an artist
should introduce his experiences and perceptions to others, not
with entertainment or decoration in mind, but in order to provoke
thought. What do your students think is an artist’s role and
responsibility in society? Ask each student write a paragraph that
begins: “An artist should . . . .” Have students share their writing
and discuss the variety of ways that artists can function in society.
English Language Arts
- Says Tang: “I want you to know my way of working. Play. Play is the most important part of my work. And when I grow up I still want to play.” Tang believes that children should be encouraged to play and has challenged educators and parents to encourage play and creativity as ways of supporting the development of the whole child. Do you agree with this philosophy? What do you think can be learned in the process of playing?
- In Confucian philosophy, filial piety is the virtue of showing respect
for one’s parents and ancestors. For 600 years, Chinese children
have learned how to respect their parents by reading a set of
classic folktales, including one story about a fourteen-year-old who
strangled a tiger to save his father, and another that tells of a boy
who offered himself as a human sacrifice to swarms of mosquitoes
so his mother and father would not be bitten. Although filial piety
is central to Chinese culture, it is far less significant in an American
society that emphasizes the individual and self-determination over
family ties and responsibilities.
Even in China, however, filial piety is a shifting concept. In 2011, the Chinese government released a new set of filial piety guidelines designed to encourage good behavior in the “modern era.” The original text is full of heroic deeds performed by children on behalf of their parents; the modern version suggests more commonplace acts of kindness such as: “Teach your mother and father how to use the internet”; “Visit them as often as possible during the holidays,” and even “Listen carefully to their stories.” Add your own filial piety guidelines to these suggestions; what acts of kindness do you think would be most important to your elders?
English Language Arts