Niobe – An Installation

I have always been drawn to tragic stories, particularly those of cosmic grandeur, often with Greek origins.  The legend of Niobe, a proud princess and mother of fourteen children, seven sons and seven daughters (the Niobids), who boasted of her large family and jeered at goddess Leto, who had only two children, the twins Apollo and Artemis, resulting in unbearable tragedy, was one of my favorites.

Gods were not to be mocked at and the offended Leto sent her children to revenge her honor.  Apollo and Artemis started to shoot arrows and killed Niobe’s sons and daughters one by one.  Niobe’s plea to spare at least one daughter came too late, and none of her fourteen children were spared.  The loss was so great, the grief so heavy, that Niobe turned into stone, yet even the stone continued to weep tears.


The Weeping Rock in Mount Sipylus, Manisa, Turkey, has been associated with Niobe’s legend since Antiquity, Source: RKTanitim

Since I started my “White Dress” series, I have been exploring the expressive possibilities of this motif and the results often took me by surprise, and further fanned my curiosity, and wanted to probe ever further.

Though my recent well-received “Stringed White Dresses – An Installation” was a success, I felt that the origami dresses in that installation were too prim, too orderly.  I wanted to create something more chaotic.  For the composition, I imagined a large dress, like a queen bee, surrounded by smaller ones; this fit the Niobe story perfectly.

After several attempts, I decided on the sizes of the dresses and chose white dresses to represent female and grey to represent male characters.  Before I folded the origami dresses, I crumpled the paper to give them a more lively look.  I put black ink and brown wash on paper to create the chaos in the background, some areas were covered with white oil wash to enrich the texture and to give more contrast to the dresses taped over the drawing paper, and finally some yellow oil streaks to suggest the ungodly gods’ touches.

To finish the entire assemblage, I pinned the little daughter Niobe tried to save onto her with a needle. Finally, I freely splashed black ink over the ensemble, and that constituted my final touch.

Niobe / 尼俄柏 / Niobe, Paper, Ink and Oil on Paper, Needle, Wooden Frames 33" x 16.5" x 3" Completed in 2013

Niobe / 尼俄柏 / Niobe
Paper, Ink and Oil on Paper, Needle, Wooden Frames
33″ x 16.5″ x 3″
Completed in 2013

Oil Painting “Arabesque”

The medium or media we choose to convey our deepest feelings and expressions, etc., however competent, can never fully convey the whole complicated concepts our brain formed mysteriously, thus the endless striving to meet the challenge, to do a better job still in the next given opportunity, thus the hunger to develop and grow as an artist, be it visual, musical compositional or a writing kind.

It also occurs often enough that one form of artistic creation, spurs on the re-interpretation with another media of either the whole story or a fleeting moment, not necessarily to prove a better job can be done; rather, to add another dimension to the engaging concept while hoping to complement the original.

I have been stimulated, on multiple occasions, by novels I read, sometimes the whole atmosphere of the book, such as Blindness by José Saramago, or sometimes, just a specific passage which may not even be pivotal in the whole scheme, such as my newly completed oil painting, Arabesque, inspired by a passage from The Known World by Edward P. Jones: “… looked over at the open chiffarobe [sic], whose door was broken and so would never close properly, looked at the black dress hanging there. It seemed to have its own life, so much life that it could have come down and walked over and placed itself over her body. Fastened itself.”

Arabesque / 阿拉伯風 / Arabeske, Oil on Canvas, 28" x 22", Completed in 2013

Arabesque / 阿拉伯風 / Arabeske
Oil on Canvas
28″ x 22″
Completed in 2013

I actually was quite stirred by the passage and the image just flooded into my mind. Incidentally, this painting also fell into a painting scheme of mine – I have been working on a series of “White Dresses”, which I saw as both liberated and restricted, at once individual and impersonal, simultaneously beautiful and sinister. Now it started the companion series “Black Dress”.

9 Paintings and 3 Installations Completed in 2013 (part 1 of 2)