Divine Threads examines the high stakes surrounding Cantonese opera heritage today, especially in regard to historic collections housed in museums around the world. As a popular and performative art, Cantonese opera histories come to us through oral transmission, embodied practice, and material fragments such as costumes, props, instruments, printed media, and vinyl recordings. These ephemeral objects were rarely deemed valuable enough for collection prior to the 1950s and ended up scattered around the world, reflecting the transpacific journeys of Cantonese opera troupes since the late nineteenth century.
Today, one of the most complete and well-preserved collections of early Cantonese opera, including some 800 objects, is held at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. Divine Threads shines a light on the visual and material culture of Cantonese opera as a treasure trove of sacred and auspicious images, stories, songs, and rituals. In tracing these connections, author April Liu analyzes the politics of memory surrounding historic opera troupes and the material traces they left behind.
This book is a marriage of art history and anthropology as it examines the connections between objects and practices. As the first in-depth attempt to address the broader social significance of Cantonese opera’s material culture, it offers a fresh approach to the visual and material characteristics of a compelling art form.