Beauty & the Beast | Philibert Kongtcheu

Screen_Shot_2016-05-05_at_2.07.52_PM.pngThis unique and startling piece of creative writing art — a new form of artistic expression being pioneered by this author- is part of a yin-yang pair that exploits the Daoist dualistic concept to underscore the opposing dimensions of the beauty and the beast, as celebrated in French literature in Jeanine-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s La Belle et La Bête, and rendered in a multiplicity of English adaptations as Beauty and the Beast. 

Like its pairing piece themed on the idea of crisis as danger and opportunity this piece is also unique in that it comes across as a drawing that attempts to represent a face, but is actually made entirely of beautified codified symbols, suggesting a highly compressed form of poetry. The representation of the beast, here the bright pupil of the dark eye, turns out, on close inspection, to be a borrowing of a confounding calligraphic spelling of the name of The Monkey King, 孙悟空Sun Wu Kong, hero of the Chinese Literary Classic Journey to the West, 西游记xiyouji, man of extraordinary power and brilliance. 

The representation of the beauty, here the bright pupil of the bright eye, turns out, on close inspection, to be a borrowing of a confounding calligraphic spelling of the name of “Beautiful Girl” in Chinese, 美丽的姑娘, here too by reference to the damsels of another great Chinese Literary Classic Dreams of the Red Chamber, 红楼梦hongloumeng, characters whose beauty does not shield them from trouble, illustrating the old Chinese saying 红颜薄命hongyanboming, i.e. beautiful women suffer unhappy fates.
The illustrations with Chinese iconic figures and the associated meanings here therefore turn upside down the traditional interpretations of the beast and the beauty in western culture. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that in French, the word beast, which is “bête,” has an adjectival form that is used to designate a mentally challenged person. Putting it in contrast with the beauty, which is commonly seen as correlating intelligence, creates an inversion of perspective challenging to the mind.
In this sense therefore, this artistic piece emerges as a compressed essay in comparative literature contrasting eastern and western perceptions and upending commonly received notions in respective cultures. Just like for its counterpart, the overall effect, stark in black and white inverted, is to challenge the senses, stimulate a more critical mind that is conducive to highly nuanced perceptions and creative expression.

In this pair of pieces (the other being yin-yang crisis as danger & opportunity), the truth is seen true the eyes, the eyes of the yin and yang, and what the brain interpret or imagines what is seen to be.

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