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The Yin and Yang of Crossing Cultures

by Sheron Long on March 28, 2013

Yin-yang symbol representing a concept learned by crossing cultures

A creative way to represent the yin-yang symbol
© Thinkstock

Embracing Different Cultures

Often the first taste of another culture is through its food or music or fashion, something like “hello.” But people who find a way of crossing cultures—stepping inside the culture’s traditions, language, history, attitudes, and beliefs—are forever changed by the experience.

In the Taoist yinyang symbol:

  • The outer circle represents the “everything,” an indivisible whole.
  • The black-and-white shapes inside show two opposite but interdependent energies that are constantly transforming each other, much like a kaleidoscope.
  • Night and day or birth and death are examples. They are opposite but interconnected; one cannot exist without the other.

In much the same way, two cultures can seem to be opposites and yet make up the indivisible whole of a person who has embraced both.

One Artist’s Quest

Born in France and a doctor by profession, Françoise Ben Arous understands the influence and creative inspiration of different cultures.

Though she has traveled worldwide, it was a trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, a few years ago, that became her turning point, a compelling OIC moment. According to Romanian artist, Eduard Andrei:

“She then began an initiatory journey to find her true self, as a person and as an artist, by exploring profound Asia, whose culture she felt as an integral part of her spiritual identity.”

Arous’ work, a mix of her Western heritage and Eastern Zen philosophy, is now on exhibit at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery until April 6, 2013. The exhibit offers a view into the beauty of cross-cultural art.

Collage made of joss paper, showing creative expression that comes from crossing cultures

“Grand Tressage High,” collage © Françoise Ben Arous. Her signature, a seal like those on traditional Japanese and Chinese paintings, shows her attachment to Asian culture.

Cultural Discovery

The works are collages with a sculptural feel. They are created from joss paper, which itself is a coarse paper handmade from bamboo and containing a thin layer of metal in gold or silver.

Joss paper samples like those used by Françoise Ben Arous in artwork inspired by crossing cultures

Joss papers with gold foil (left) and with silver foil (right)
photographs CC courtesy, Kanashimi

In some Asian cultures, joss paper is burned during ancestor worship, a ritual reflecting the concept of the family as a close unit of living and dead relatives. Joss paper is known as jin or yin.

  • Jin has a gold metal square and is given to both the deceased and higher gods, such as the Jade Emperor.
  • Yin has a silver metal square and is for offerings to the spirits of ancestors and local deities.

Joss paper is burned as an offering at funerals, on special holidays, and throughout the year at shrines in family homes.

From Cultural Discovery to Creative Expression

After discovering the origin of joss paper on her first trip to Hanoi, Arous returned often to find the best quality paper for her artistic creations, and it became the favored medium for her collages.

She was attracted by the pictorial quality of the paper. She cuts it into geometric shapes and attaches it to board or canvas, creating abstract 3-D compositions, described by Eduard Andrei, as “sometimes evoking urban or geometric structures.”

Collage made of joss paper, showing creative expression that comes from crossing cultures

“Indigo 1 High,” joss paper collage with colored accents
© Françoise Ben Arous

In some compositions, Arous keeps to a monochromatic harmony in gold or silver. In others, she may enhance the papers by adding color accents of acrylic or watercolor and textures achieved through thin incisions.

Collage made of joss paper, showing creative expression that comes from crossing cultures

“Chandigarh,” joss paper collage whose wavy high relief connotes fluidity of movement
© Françoise Ben Arous

Despite the association of joss paper with the deceased, Arous’ works convey a joy of living. The metal sheets capture and reflect light in ways that change with the time of the day or the vantage point of the viewer.

Luminosity and movement characterize her works, which Andrei calls “jewel-like.” He continues:

“Françoise’s works thus call to mind the aesthetic of the Japanese prints Ukiyo-e (literally images of the floating world) and of Impressionism.”

From the West, Arous also cites Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, and the Art Deco period as influences on her work. Clearly, East and West—two energies, both powerful like yin and yang—meet in her work, and the result is a richness of creative expression attained by crossing cultures.

Oh, I see—as it is in art, it is in life that two cultures shared are a remarkable inspiration.

Yin-yang symbol, representing a concept learned by crossing cultures

Yin and yang
© Thinkstock

For those interested in knowing more about the world’s cultures, visit The Nations Online Project, where you can click a country on an image of the planet and begin your discovery on the “ten-thousand dimensional net covering heaven and earth,” the Chinese name for the internet. 

 April 4, 2013, is  the Qingming Festival , also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day. On this day, some Chinese people around the world sweep the tombs of their ancestors, offer food and flowers, and burn joss paper. See pictures from 2012 here.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


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