Storytelling through art? Not exactly a novel concept. In fact, different civilizations have been weaving tales through art for centuries. From the pictorial hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt and the lavishly painted Grecian urns that inspired John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” poem to the majestic art of the Renaissance to the Impressionist works that came out of 18th century Paris, all art has a story to tell.
"Signs Of An Era" (2018) by Artist Jeremy Cheung - Mong Kok, Hong Kong
Throughout history, stories have been handed down through the generations through language (word of mouth and songs), art (paintings, drawings, tapestries, and sculpture), and writing (scrolls, books, plays). The one thing all these different art forms had in common? They drew on the powerful art of storytelling to pass important knowledge down to future generations.
In ancient times, humans communicated their greatest tales through more primitive means—think rock paintings, bas-relief sculptures, carvings in limestone and caves, and hand scrolls. Across recent centuries, as our society became more sophisticated, so too did our art—and how we told stories through them.
The Art of Storytelling
Art—good art—offers its audience a deeper understanding of the historical and social complex in which it was made. Just think of what Renaissance paintings tell us of beauty standards of the 17th century, or what the subjects of Andy Warhol’s oeuvre say about modern society’s obsession with consumerism. But real art, the kind that tells a story, forces us to dig deeper. When we reflect on a piece of art, we delve into our own experiences and nostalgia. For this reason, each piece of art means something different to each person that sees it.
"Golden Days" (2017) by Artist Elaine Li - Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong
At Bamboo Scenes, we believe our collection of photography art tells a story—or rather, several stories—of Hong Kong. In some of our photographs, our artists have captured buildings that may no longer be standing or traditional crafts that are fading from our society. Like our photography art, our artists have captured different areas of the city. We have heard many people say that they know the artist that took the photo or that they have a personal connection to the area or subject that was captured.
We love to share the story of our artist and artworks but we are also interested in hearing about your stories and how you connect with our artworks. Each of us has our own unique stories influenced by different facts, such as the cities we’ve lived in, the people we’ve loved, and the memories we’ve made. And, we’ve no doubt that for anyone who has a past in Hong Kong, our artworks trigger these stories—maybe you visited a street in one of our photographs or used to take the trams depicted in another.
Sure, people can be captivated by the technicalities of an artwork—the colors, the composition, the subject, the brushwork. But inevitably, stories are why people fall in love with or are inspired by art. Maybe it’s the context of the artwork or maybe it’s the artist’s personal story—either way, this is usually what draws you in. In fact, it could be argued that some artworks—whether digital, sculpture, performance, painting, or photograph—may not seem particularly interesting until you discover their stories.
Famous artworks with fascinating stories
Many artworks are famous not just because of their artistic technique or reference to the artist's time period, but because of the story that surrounds them. You probably know all the below artworks—but how much do you know about the stories behind them?
Mona Lisa - Leonardo Da Vinci
‘Mona Lisa’ (1503-1506) Leonardo de Vinci - Louvre, Paris, Photo Courtesy: CNN
The centrepiece of the Louvre museum in Paris, this is one of the world’s most famous paintings. Also known as the “Portrait of Lisa Gherardini”, experts speculate whether the subject was the wife of Francesco del Giocondo (the painting is referred to as “La Gioconda” in Italian) or perhaps Caterina, Leonardo Da Vinci’s mother. Over the centuries, theories have abounded about the subject’s identity - but we don’t really know the truth. Perhaps more intriguingly, the piece was stolen in 1911, not long after it was installed at the Louvre. The theft became a media circus with people flocking to the museum to view the empty space where the painting once stood—and, famed artist Pablo Picasso was even arrested as a suspect at one point.
The Terracotta Army
‘The Terracotta Army’ Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum site museum - Xian, China, Photo Courtesy: SCMP
There are many pieces that might vie for the title of most famous sculpture, but we’d hazard a guess that the world-famous Terracotta Army, ensconced in Xian, China, would be high on that list. Only discovered in the 1980s, this enormous cache of clay statues was discovered in three massive pits by a local farmer. Turns out, they are a funerary cortege for the tomb of Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, who died in 210BC. Since around that time, this huge collection of soldiers, officers, horses, and more have protected the Emperor’s tomb, having been placed there to protect him in the afterlife. It’s estimated that the entire cache is made up of 8,000 soldiers, 670 horses, and 130 chariots, each of which is life-sized, but varies by military rank.
V-J Day in Times Square - Alfred Eisenstaedt
‘V-J Day in Times Square’ (1945), Alfred Eisenstaedt - Times Square, New York, Photo Courtesy: The New York Times
Most of us see this photograph as an ebullient expression of joy that erupted in New York City’s Times Square when the Allied Powers declared victory in 1945, bringing an end to World War Two. The image was taken by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt and depicts a Navy sailor kissing a nurse on 14 August 1945, as the end of the war was announced. Eisenstaedt has noticed a sailor walking down the street and grabbing different women and kissing them in excitement (there’s probably a consent issue to be considered here!), then noticed the nurse dressed in white in the crowd. He waited for the soldier to approach the nurse and when he did, Eisenstaedt was ready with his camera to create photographic history. Since then, many men and women have come forward to claim that they were the ones in the photo—but the true identities remain a mystery.
Bamboo Scenes’ Commitment to Storytelling
At Bamboo Scenes, we believe in storytelling and we believe that it’s a skill that must be used carefully. That’s why we find creative ways to share our Bamboo Scenes artists and artworks, bringing everything to life by sharing the details of each one. We believe this allows viewers to build a personal connection with each artist and photography art print. We like to find different ways to share these stories, so there’s always something interesting going on!
"Urban Ceremony" (2017) by Artist Kevin Mak - Sai Wan, Hong Kong
At art exhibitions, we carefully curate the detail cards for each piece to offer insight into the artist and artwork. If you visit our “Highlights of Hong Kong” exhibition at Indigo Living on Caine Road, you’ll find QR codes by each artwork which you can scan to listen to the artists sharing their stories and comments on the pieces.
Of course, social media is a big part of our work, and we strive to present you with weekly snippets and stories to keep you engaged! Whether you follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn; read our Journal articles; or watch our “RAW by Bamboo Scenes” videos on our YouTube channel, our aim is always to dive deeper into the artworks and artists and offer interesting insights.
If you are curious to learn about the stories behind our artists and artworks then reach out to us and our team will be happy to share the stories with you!