Official Weblog Featuring Articles on and Images of Chinese Contemporary Artist Lee Shi-min's Dangdai Series of Works

Contemporary Artist Brings Chinese Imperial Dynasties to Life December 19, 2008

Dangdai Dolls: The Great Doll of China


Chinese contemporary artist Lee Shi-min has brought the former glory of Chinese imperial dynasties to life through his Dangdai series by the personification of consecutive dynasties by iconic dynastic figures which he has termed dynasticlasts. The works in the series feature dynasticlast portraits of imperial and tribal women wearing elaborate animist attire and Chinese mountain beanie hats (wan-mao) strongly imbued with corresponding dynastic colors.

In artistic terms, Dangdai is a fresh, innovative and original series of works of clarity and vision that offers a further element of multi-dimensionality, order of depth and degree of sophistication to Chinese imperial tradition where the exclusion of males signifies a long overdue tribute to, edification and acknowledgment of female contribution to the great establishments, accomplishments and achievements manifest throughout Chinese dynastic times — a historically significant and important set of paintings being the first and only modern visualization by a prominent contemporary artist of a full succession of Chinese empresses and tribal women spanning over two millennia.

The series is a prime example of the artist’s mode, method or approach of incorporating or combining several unique, identifying features to great visual effect in works that are recalled at once. The face of each character in the series follows the artist’s proprietary formula and signature proportions for facial beauty, cuteness and appeal; each face is formed by a masterful arrangement of eight tribal markings: one pair of tadpole green eyes set within a larger elliptical red pair, a trinity of three rectangular Chinese character seal tattoos (one bearing the doll’s name, one bearing the Chinese characters for “now”, and one bearing the Chinese characters for “forever”) set in a triangular arrangement around the eyes, and a small triangular one symbolizing the Mountain of Heavenly Calls set on the front of the chin, giving rise to several corresponding colour areas: red, green, blue and yellow; faces are recognizable by unique colour combinations.

Moreover, the faces are framed by modern animist attire and Chinese mountain beanies containing references to Western classical and Eastern imperial architecture and design. The three bands of square and rectangular panels on the circumference of the beanie bear (from top down) Chinese characters for each of the twelve associated animals, the twenty-four Chinese cardinal directions, and the twelve earthly branches. This color-coded trinity of bands is surrounded by auspicious motifs of the doll’s corresponding animal. One circular hair portal perforates the back of the beanie. Each hat is topped off with a strong animal silhouette. A grand tribute to the more aesthetic gender of the human species, curvilinear, rounded, refined.

The names of each of the dynasticlast doll characters, related features and information in chronological order are:

Doll / Dynasticlast Name: Associated Animal : Signature Color : Season : Vocation

1. Dong-dong : Rat : Gray : Winter : Musician
2. Lan-lan : Ox : Blue : Winter : Carpenter
3. Qing-qing : Tiger : Green : Spring : Tailor
4. Fen-fen : Rabbit : Pink : Spring : Gardener
5. Huang-huang : Dragon : Yellow : Spring : Historian
6. Hong-hong : Snake : Red : Summer : Artist
7. Dai-dai : Horse : Black : Summer : Explorer
8. Xia-xia : Ram : Cyan : Summer : Barber
9. Xing-xing : Monkey : Magenta : Autumn : Doctor
10. Zi-zi : Rooster : Purple : Autumn : Architect
11. Yun-yun : Dog : Orange : Autumn : Designer
12. Fei-fei : Boar : Brown : Winter : Chef

The increasingly popular line of Dangdaiers or Dangdai Dolls (3D Dolls) are based on this series. Referred to by the artist as “ideal small-scale model specimens of the female form,” they are notable for their strikingly designed attire, subtle oriental features and youthful nubile proportions. There are 12 colorful dolls in all, three for each season, one for each Chinese zodiac animal.

Link to Dangdai Dolls weblog: