Flower plaques are decorated bamboo structures used for celebrations such as business openings, weddings, or anniversaries. Versatile, lightweight, and temporary, they are made from bamboo frames, tin, wire mesh, paper, fabric, and plastic. Their parts are modular, reusable, and easily assembled and stored. They are found at this large scale primarily in southern China, especially in Hong Kong, where craftspeople draw on the related skills of bamboo scaffold workers and builders of bamboo ritual theater.
The Bamboo installation on the National Mall was commissioned by the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and designed by Danny Yung, a producer and artist from Hong Kong. For this piece, Yung collaborated with Choi Wing Kei, who began learning the tradition of bamboo construction and the art of flower plaque making from his father when he was thirteen years old. In his artist statement, Yung states: “This is an installation experiment that merges traditional creativity with contemporary creativity. The traditional spirit of folk creative work in Hong Kong is rooted in bold experimentations, open and limitless interactions, collaborations, and dialogues.”
This flower plaque, measuring 112 feet in length and composed of over 2,000 pieces of bamboo, was inspired in part by the West Kowloon Cultural District’s Bamboo Theatre. The West Kowloon Cultural District is a cultural quarter that is being built in Hong Kong’s harbor front area. Beginning in 2011, the District has installed a temporary bamboo theater on site during the Chinese New Year period to present programs in preparation for the opening of the new Xiqu Centre, a purpose-built theatre for xiqu (traditional Chinese theater), which is now under construction and scheduled for completion in 2016.
Wing Kei Flower Shop 榮基花店 is a workshop in New Territories, Hong Kong, that specializes in making traditional bamboo structures for rituals, anniversaries, restaurant openings, and other special occasions. Owner Choi Wing Kei learned the craft from his father who had been a bamboo scaffold worker before shifting his focus to making flower plaques for the next several decades. Choi started working with his father when he was thirteen years old, and he established the business—which he runs with his brother—in the mid-1990s. This is one of only a handful of such businesses in Hong Kong that have the knowledge and skills to work in all aspects of bamboo structure-building, from scaffolding to ritual structures and temporary theaters. The flower plaque was constructed by craftsmen Choi Wing Kei, Chau Kai Ho, Kan Chung Chi, Nai Tsun Lam, and Sit Kar Lok. Choi Wing Kei 蔡榮基 participates in the Festival from June 25 through June 28. Chau Kai Ho 周啓豪 , who has been training and working in the business for over three years, will be providing demonstrations every day of the Festival. He, like many young people in Hong Kong today, did not previously pay much attention to the tradition of flower plaques. Since working in the craft, he has found satisfaction in meeting the challenges presented by each different project and in the camaraderie of the workshop.
Danny Ning Tsun Yung 榮念曾 is a founding member and co-artistic director of Zuni Icosahedron, an experimental multi-arts and culture organization based in Hong Kong, and chairperson of the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture. Recognized as an artistic pioneer and creative leader, he produces work and collaborations in different media including animation, film and video, visual and installation art, and performance. Yung studied architecture and urban planning in the United States and co-founded the seminal Asian American arts organization Basement Workshop in New York’s Chinatown before returning to Hong Kong in the mid-1970s. Since the 1990s, Yung has been collaborating with master and emerging artists on bringing traditional performing arts into contemporary theater. He is recognized for his involvement in international cultural exchange and policy work, including as laureate of the 2014 Fukuoka Arts and Culture Prize.