While the Wang Center's open and airy atrium -- with its serene sounds of waterfalls -- is dotted with Stony Brook University students on a recent weekday afternoon, Jinyoung Jin, the site's new curator, reminds the community that the building welcomes the public, too.
"People have a hesitancy to come to the college without another purpose, but all are invited," says Jin.
The center is expanding its exhibitions these days -- the newest is a rare look at authentic handmade cloth baby carriers from rural areas of China and Taiwan, exploring the symbolisms of five native tribes.
Smaller alcoves tucked between exhibit space are dedicated for students to display personal items central to their own Asian heritage -- a Pakistani prayer rug, a simulated table setting for an Iranian New Year celebration. "We want them to participate," says Jin.
Visitors might also stop by the Asian-inspired cafe replete with bubble tea and a sushi bar.
Among the tribes in the rural parts of China, baby carriers carry more than infants. They also share the story of their ancestral past, says Jin, and they are considered family heirlooms. In fact, some embroidered carriers on display are missing the straps that are usually taken off by mothers and saved as mementos before the rest of the cloth carrier is handed down. Those displayed here are most likely from the early 20th century.
Even now, tribes in rural parts of China have no written language; they use symbols to convey their heritage, Jin says, and these unique markings can be seen on the carriers' textiles. The Shui favor a fish pattern since fish lay lots of eggs, representing fertility. The Dong tribe uses square shapes, while the Yi designs show a well where water continues to flow. The Miao's historic fable has the tribe descended from a mother butterfly, so that insect shows up in the embroidery, says Lee Talbot, curator of the George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum, who explains the cultural significance of the Wang Center exhibition.
"Their cultural history is told through oral tradition, and then visually through textiles," Talbot says. "Baby carriers are a very esteemed object. It really embodies the mother's love and devotion to the baby."
They flow along the perimeter of the Wang Center -- four or five are held every season, Jin says. Admission is free.
"The Everyday Joys of Japan" features paintings by Jiro Osuga, a Tokyo native whose works depict noodle shops and street scenes.
"The Pearl of the Snowlands" highlights original works from the oldest Tibetan Printing House, Derge Parkhang, founded in 1729, and highly revered among the people of Tibet. The works show Buddhas and other cultural symbols in finely detailed cut prints that have been well preserved.
"A is for Arab," on loan from New York University, examines Arab stereotypes in American popular culture.
The Wang Center's two lecture halls and auditorium host lectures, workshops and performances, all of which are open to the public. Upcoming:
APRIL 1: SUFI SONGS
"Sufi Songs of Love," a 7 p.m. musical performance highlighting the great Sufi songs originating in 13th century Persia, is one of many performances celebrating Asian culture in the theater. Admission is $10.
APRIL 8: CHAI TIME
Learn about tea time in India from master tea maker Drake Page, who will look at the custom of the popular and traditional beverage in this 1 p.m. program. Admission is $10, reservations required.
APRIL 14: RAMEN NOODLES
A 1 p.m. workshop breaks down the construction of the Japanese Ramen noodle from making the stock from soy and miso to the different variations of the dish ($20, reservations required). A free 2:30 p.m. lecture by Dr. George Solt discusses how Ramen noodles became Japan's national food.
WHEN | WHERE Stony Brook University, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays and noon-8 p.m. weekends
INFO 631-632-4400, stonybrook.edu/wang
ADMISSION Free (workshops, lectures and performances have admission fees and different times).
CAFE The Jasmine Tea House, on the second floor, is open 11-8 p.m. weekdays and noon-8 p.m. weekends.