Unique Gourd Lights, An Homage to All the 2020 Tang Prize Laureates

  • Unique Gourd Lights, An Homage to All the 2020 Tang Prize Laureates
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The Thanksgiving holiday is around the corner! To wish our 2020 laureates a life of safety, prosperity and fulfilment and to present them with a memorable gift worth collecting, the Tang Prize Foundation commissioned artisans in the Ba Ba Workshop, set up by people surviving Typhoon Morakot, to make the special “lights of benediction” from gourds well-nurtured by nature and carefully selected for their perfect shapes, as demonstrated by the standard proportion of the size of the top parts to that of the bottom parts being 3 to 7. Rather than simply avail ourselves of manufactured consumer goods, the Foundation insisted that these gourds be naturally grown, and the engravings be the manifestation of these artisans’ labor and skill, in order to make sure the effort put into the production of each of these lights is a faithful reflection of our laureates’ stature as respected, leading authorities in their own fields.

Xin-Lian Yang of the Ba Ba Workshop, who is tasked with making the lights, intends the shape of a gourd to symbolize one of the ideas figuring prominently in Eastern culture: the wish for happiness and prosperity, and for values that will endure for many generations to come. Images projected from the light pouring through the dots carved on the surface of the gourds are meant to draw inferences about the Tang Prize’s four award categories—for Sustainable Development, flowing rivers of renewable energy; for Biopharmaceutical Science, convoluted structures of mysterious molecules; for Sinology, profound knowledge imparted through the braille alphabet; for Rule of Law, the impact of law and order radiating from the center of concentric circles of dots. Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern, CEO of the Tang Prize Foundation, elaborated on the reason behind choosing this particular plant as this year’s gifts for the laureates: “Each gourd, growing from a seed to a mature plant, is subject to the combined forces of a capricious climate, seasonal changes in weather, crop pests and other environmental factors. When ready to be harvested, they are all in different shapes. We can liken gourds to our laureates, who, even when facing adverse circumstances, still persevere with their endeavor to create a sustainable future. They have evoked many positive responses in different pockets of society and have made the world a better place.”

Yi-Fang Gong, senior artisan and a mentor to his colleagues in the Ba Ba Workshop, has taken to drawing since he was a child. However, the economic struggle his family was locked in meant that his father was reluctant to see him continue with his artistic pursuit. He recounted how he would use his child allowance to buy papers and pens to practice drawing. Patience and persistence were his guiding principles when he was trying to master his craft. What prompted him to dive into gourd carving was the belief that “gourds can bring me good luck.” They have helped him to have an easy ride whether when he was creating art or teaching students. Mr. Gong is also a collector of gourds, putting in his display cabinet all sort of gourd artifacts. “Artisans have to come up with different designs to accommodate the shapes of different gourds,” he explained. “It takes time to complete each step. To rush through the whole process and end up doing a perfunctory job is not an option. From burning, carving to coloring patterns on gourds, it will take five working days to make just one gourd light the Tang Prize Foundation requires.”

Ms. Miao-Ling Wang-Lin, director of the Ba Ba Workshop, told us that “it has been eleven years since Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan. While the victims have gradually recovered from their psychological trauma, their memories of this disaster have also faded. Artisans help and encourage each other through their artworks. They are like family to one another. They work together to reconstruct the life and culture destroyed by the typhoon and their effort deserve the public’s appreciation and support.”  

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our way of life and usual economic activities. It has also weakened social unity and obstructed human interaction. In this tumultuous time, there is an even greater need for a life of “safety, prosperity and fulfilment” to calm our mind and soothe our soul. In addition, it just so happened that The Legal Agenda, one of this year’s Rule of Law winners, is based the city Beirut, where a recent explosion has wreaked terrible havoc. The Tang Prize Foundation hopes these “lights of benediction” will bring the people of Lebanon the confidence they need to rebuild their country.