Jessica Tan Gudnason

Jessica Tan Gudnason

  • Chinese Opera
  • Introduction

  • CV

  • Exhibitions

  • Publications

Malaysian-born photographer Jessica Tan Gudnason studied at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York. She still lives and works in the city on the Hudson. She describes her project with the following words:
“My interest in Chinese opera began when I was little. My mother was an opera fan who would captivate her children by telling us about performances she had seen, and would play a record and talk about the traditions of the art form and the stories drawn from history, legends, folk tales, and classic novels. My grandmother, who was originally from China, often took me and my sister to see Chinese operas. The troupe performed in a shed theater closed on three sides but open on the side facing the street. Young and old would gather together for every performance, and the stage would come alive with music, song, and fabulous costumes. It was an overwhelming experience of color, sound, and movement.

For the last ten years I have been a fine-art photographer living in the United States, and have found that I still have an urgent interest in Chinese opera. So I threw myself into this project eight years ago.

As a fine-art photographer, however, I have shown what the modern eye sees at the opera: the exact attitude of the moment. Furthermore, culture and art are important means of understanding between different nations and generations. My intention in this book is also to preserve this rich heritage so that our children may have a better understanding and appreciation of this unique tradition and performing art form.

It was a memorable experience for me when I met the actresses from the Honglou Troupe of the Yue opera in Shanghai. The Yue opera is relatively new as it was formed only about eighty years ago. They allowed me to watch as they transformed themselves into other people with makeup and wigs, which, I remember, were neatly arranged on a table. The Yue opera is the only all-female troupe whose performers play both male and female roles.

It took me some time to get used to their singing, because the sound was louder than the falsetto and expressive voices I knew from southern China. It was evident that their performances were a great success as audiences rushed to the stage night after night at the end of an opera.

I greatly admire all the artists for the exquisite gift of their performances. They allowed me to create my own vision of their art and to show certain activities and moments usually not seen by the audience. Because Chinese operatic culture deems that each performer must integrate his own means of communicating into the traditional demands of the role and the art form, I have tried to bring my own new vision of this ancient theater to the new world and its new millennium.

Jessica Tan Gudnason is an artist whose work explores two great traditions in opera, Eastern and Western. Her first book, Chinese Opera (Abbeville, 2001) included an essay by the movie star Gong Li. A welcome figure backstage at the great opera houses around the world, she dedicated four years to collecting the portraits in this volume. Tan Gudnason was raised in Malaysia, and was a celebrated fashion model before becoming a photographer. She and her husband, internationally renowned photographer Torkil Gudnason, live and work in Manhattan and Sagaponack, Long Island.

Solo Exhibitions (Selection)

2001Publishing of Chinese Opera book, International Center Photography, New York
2001Axel Raben Gallery, Soho, New York
1994Center for Photography, Woodstock New York
1992Griffin Gallery, Matlacha, Florida


Group Exhibitions (Selection)

2001Visionaire Exhibition at the Museum Fashion Institute of Technology, New York
2000Benefit Photo Exhibition, The Friends Of Green Chimney, New York
1994Bridgewater/Lustberg Gallery, New York
1993Visionaire in der Art 54 Gallery, New York
1992Bridgewater/ Lustberg Gallery, New York
1991Julie Saul Gallery, New York
1990Ariel Gallery, New York


Books/Catalogs (Selection)

Chinese Opera Book- Abbeville Publishing





Group Books





Visionaire- Dreaming In Print. 2003




Visionaire- The Orient, No 8. 1993




Upcoming




European Opera Book Project,  Winter  2007



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