Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Nick Ng | Chinese Opera

Photo © Nick Ng-All Rights Reserved
Readers of this blog know I immerse myself in personal projects that "speak" to me for many reasons; some of which are unknown whilst others are obvious. Documenting endangered cultures and traditional life ways, with particular emphasis on religious traditions and events, cults and esoteric practices, is what attracts me the most for my photography.

I've very recently started the process of exploring the tradition of Chinese Opera. Earlier this year, returning home after completing my work photographing the Vietnamese religious tradition of Đạo Mẫu, and its ceremonial manifestations of Hầu Đồng, for my forthcoming book "Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Vietnam”, I spent time admiring large photographs of Chinese Opera performers displayed at Hong Kong Airport.

Perhaps it was the visual/aesthetic connection between the Hầu Đồng mediums and the Chinese Opera performers that was at play, but it was then that I decided to add this project to my to-do list.

During my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur to attend Travel Photographer Asia 2016, I met Lim Li-Ling, a Malaysian part-time photographer, who had documented the Xiao Qi Lin Hokkien Troupe of Singapore  for a number of years, resulting in a book titled Wayang (A Javanese term for theatrical performances). Discussing it and receiving a copy of her book cemented my decision to go deeper into this traditional art form.

In contrast to Hầu Đồng which is relatively unknown by photographers outside of Vietnam, Chinese Opera has been popular with a large number of documentary photographers. I found a expansive amount of photographic essays documenting Chinese Opera; the first of which is by the very talented and prolific Nick Ng, a Kuala Lumpur resident and a Sony Malaysia's Alpha Professional Photographer.

Chinese Opera is one of the oldest dramatic art forms in the world. Many of the features that characterize modern Chinese Opera developed in northern China, particularly Shanxi and Gansu Provinces. The main forms are the Shanxi Opera, the Beijing Opera, the Shanghai Opera and the Cantonese Opera.

However, as Lim Li-Ling asserts in her Wayang book, Chinese Opera in the region of South East Asia is currently a dying art from whose performances are limited to key religious festivals.