Connected \\ February 5, 2019

Ladies as lions

PEM’s Lunar New Year Festival welcomes people to PEM in droves — families, locals and tourists find their way to the museum every year to celebrate and participate in a lively day of performances, art-making and cultural exploration. In 2018, the Festival broke all previous records with attendance at a whopping 3,500! A central feature of the day’s programming has, for at least the past 15 years, been the raucous gymnastics of the Gund Kwok Asian Women’s Lion and Dragon Dance Troupe.


© 2015 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Tova Katzman

Not only does Gund Kwok wow the crowd with their gravity-defying stunts and colorful costumes, but they are the only Boston-based lion and dragon dancing troupe comprised entirely of Asian women. It was founded, 20 years ago, with feminist intent.

We wanted to build an Asian women's’ community where there wasn’t such a space 20 years ago,” says Gund Kwok Founder and “Sifu” (teacher) Cheng Imm Tan, “We’re committed to womens empowerment, to ‘live a bigger life.’ Women are not expected to be strong, and we challenge each other to push ourselves physically, to overcome not just physical but psychological and emotional barriers.

Gund Kwok’s performance at PEM on Saturday, February 16th, takes place just after the closing of Empresses of China’s Forbidden City on the previous Sunday, February 10th. The thematic link between the two is remarkable, circling women's complex relationship with power, and with their own bodies, over many centuries continuing through the present. Gund Kwok currently has 13 adult women in the troupe, and an almost equal number of girls, guiding a new group of empowered, physically engaged women into adulthood.


Looking at Plum Blossoms from Yinzhen’s Twelve Ladies. Court painters, Beijing, possibly including Zhang Zhen (active late 17th–early 18th century) or his son Zhang Weibang (about 1725–about 1775), Kangxi period, 1709–23, hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, Palace Museum, Gu6458-8/12. © The Palace Museum


Daisy Yiyou Wang, co-curator of Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, at the Palace Museum last fall. Photo by Bob Packert/PEM.

Although the high season for performing is certainly in February and March, due to Chinese New Year which lands in early February, Gund Kwok performs throughout the year.

Each year, Gund Kwok changes their routines to incorporate new cultural talents within the group. “Last year we did a Filipino dance,” explains Tan, “and when we had a South Asian woman in our group, we’d incorporate features of traditional Indian dance.”

Gund Kwok performances at PEM don’t usually bear a title, but this year they’ve prepared a number called “The Pig Befriends the Lion.” “The pig is usually seen as a greedy, lazy animal, but in the Chinese zodiac is a really compassionate, generous character,” says Tan, “So we’d like to portray the pig in a different light.”


“The details are a secret, so I can’t tell you right now!” she grins, “but…. expect the unexpected.” Join us for PEM’s Lunar New Year exhibition on Saturday, February 16th to see these amazing women in action!


Saturday, February 16, 2019 from 10 am–4 pm

Come celebrate the sights and sounds of this annual festival at PEM. Join us for music, art making and other traditions, including colorful lion dances performed by Gund Kwok, the only all-women lion dance group in the country. All programs included with admission.

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