Symbolic, protective and fierce: The Tiger in Asian Art goes on show at London's Asia House

By Laura Burgess | 22 November 2010
a painting of a leopard in a snowy landscape
Hokusai, Tiger in a Snowstorm, Japan (1849)

Exhibition: The Tiger in Asian Art, Symbol of Power and Protection, Asia House, London, until February 12 2011

The tiger is symbolic in myth and culture for the people of Asia. It is the national animal of India, Malaysia, China, and North and South Korea, is one of 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac, and by reputation it should replace the lion as the King of Beasts.

The Tiger in Asian Art looks at fine and contemporary artwork, rare paintings, sculptures, textiles and photographs to explore different interpretations of the tiger during the past 3,000 years. There is a population of approximately 3,200 tigers in the wild and the exhibition wants to motivate people to save the endangered species.

Some of the pieces in the collection date from as early as the 1st century BC and originate from Japan, Tibet, Vietnam and Mongolia. The artwork looks at the cultural and spiritual significance of the tiger to these places and the role that the creature plays to the human psyche. Showing the tiger as a symbol of power and protection throughout Asia, the artwork has been split into five categories, looking at it as a protector, spiritual power, material, hunted animal and declining figure.

Chinese artist Zhang Huan and his series Free Tiger Returns to the Mountains draws attention to the tiger's fate and illustrates a desire for harmony in nature. Zhang’s technique was developed using ash gathered from incense burnt at Shanghai temples.

Visitors can also see a painting by the famous Japanese artist Hokusai, Tiger in a Snowstorm (1720), a 16th century Chinese Ming military banner depicting a magnificent tiger surrounded by flame and cloud motifs, and a renowned Jaipur Hunting Scene from the James Ivory Collection.

Asia House will also host a Tiger Forum on December 7 2010 with conservationists and speakers. Experts will include Judy Mills, Coordinator of the International Tiger Coalition and Debbie Banks, Senior Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency.

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