By Mita Kataria
BU News Service
BOSTON — Red, white and gold lion masks are set out on a performance space, marked with white tape, with musical instruments set at the back. The audience is waiting. The dancers take their places. To the resounding beats of Chinese drums, cymbals and gongs, adorned in bright red costumes, the lions wake up. The crowd erupts into thunderous claps and cheers.
In the Shapiro Family Courtyard at the Museum of Fine Arts, hundreds of people have gathered to see the Chinese Lion Dance, a traditional dance form of China.
Celebrating the Lunar New Year, the Museum of Fine Arts gave free entry for people to explore Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese traditions and culture on Saturday.
Makeeba McCreary, chief of Learning and Community Engagement, said that the event was a part of the larger celebration of diversity in the city of Boston. She said that the opportunity to celebrate diversity went beyond the Lunar New Year— it extended to MLK Day, Nowruz, Diwali and various other days celebrated by different communities in the city.
“It’s important for everyone to understand how incredibly diverse the city is right now—how many other cultures there are,” McCreary said.
Fernanda Murillo, who drove in from Lexington, Massachusetts, said that she really liked that the MFA was celebrating different New Year’s traditions like the Lunar New Year, the Mayan New Year, the Iranian New Year and others, as it is helping make people aware of cultures they are unfamiliar with.
The students of Wah Lum Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy, which has centers in Malden and Quincy, gave a Kung Fu demonstration and performed the Chinese Lion Dance. According to the Chinese tradition, the Lion Dance is done to ward off evil spirit son the New Year. It is symbolic of starting afresh, without the obstacles that were blocking one’s path in the past.
Korean and Vietnamese dancers, clad in traditional hanbok and áo dài, danced with multicolored fans and Ba tầm- Vietnamese flat palm hats, as props. They glided gracefully, coming in and out of formations representing flowers.
Visitors also got a chance to participate in workshops making door guardians, clay tea cups and zodiac ink scrolls, which were specifically designed to be safe and informative for kids. Althea Bennett, the lead educator at the museum said that the workshops were designed to highlight their art collection from Asia and for the children to know more about Asian traditions.
In Chinese tradition, door hangings are changed every New Years Day to keep bad spirits away. In this workshop, the children used collages to make dragons on their door hangings, though one child decided to put Batman instead.
“We’ve had the ability to allow kids to be introduced to a lot of traditional ways of working, but then they can put their own spin on it if they want to,” Bennett said.
Feng Zhu, a marketing executive from Malden who attended the event, said that she appreciated the MFA’s efforts to engage people and educate them about different Asian cultures.
“It was a really special experience for me as I have been away from home for many years,” Zhu, who is originally from China, said. “It was really nice to see the traditional events.”
McCreary believes that it is the MFA’s responsibility as a museum to facilitate an exchange of ideas and offer a space that brings everyone together.
“Anytime you can create a space for gathering and community building, you offer a chance for people to be better, to appreciate all of the people around them that are different—in that the diversity of perspective, but also culture and language,” McCreary said.