Rise with the dragon at Kwai Chai Hong this Chinese New Year

This year's art installation is themed after the game of Mahjong, an iconic piece of Chinese culture and closely associated with New Year festivities.


Kwai Chai Hong, a mainstay of many people’s Chinatown visits, is known for their seasonal art installations, usually corresponding to Chinese celebrations, as written about by BASKL in the past. 2024’s Chinese New Year is no exception, boasting an all-new art installation themed after the iconic Mahjong game.

The art installation, Rise of the Dragon, was created by a pair of local artists, the Johor Bahru-based Wong Jia Min and Lee Chaer Shean from plus + plus. The artwork itself is an oversized Mahjong game set up in the centre of Kwai Chai Hong. The pieces are present not only on the board but also suspended in the air above and around the board throughout the cul-de-sac. This provides a great spot for visitors to take pictures, standing amidst the “floating”, giant Mahjong pieces. In addition, a length of cloth rises up from the board, representing the spirit of a dragon emerging from the game.

The artists seated in the foreground with Bai Chuan Management in the background

Zeen Chang, Managing Partner of Bai Chuan Management emphasises, “It’s not about gambling. Mahjong is a Chinese game that was invented in the 1800s during the Qing dynasty to pass the time. Today, Mahjong is played worldwide, even among people who don’t read Chinese. It’s a game that can bring all generations together to celebrate, to play on the same table. We are all equal at the Mahjong table.” She also says that Mahjong is known for fostering the values of leisure and bonding, and even has known ties to cognitive improvement. This intricate game that requires a various mix of tiles to form unique combinations serves as a metaphor for our nation’s strength in diversity and unity, which is something Kwai Chai Hong is always passionate about.

The art piece is dynamic and imbued with a sense of movement, befitting the game of Mahjong where tiles are shuffled around energetically and excitedly in between rounds. According to the artists, this act of reshuffling the pieces to begin a new game also symbolises a new beginning, which is one of the most important aspects of Chinese New Year, especially in the Year of the Dragon.

In myth, the dragon is known to slumber in bodies of water during the winter, as it gathers strength before awakening in the spring. Wong and Lee say, “The Mahjong panels and wire mesh collectively craft the silhouette of a Dragon, awakening from its long slumber as winter ends and soaring the skies, representing hope for a better and more prosperous beginning in the Year of the Dragon.” Lee adds, “This installation is more than an artistic display; it is a tangible representation of hope, inviting individuals to contemplate and embrace a new life chapter as they welcome the Year of the Dragon.”

Chang further comments that the name given to the exhibition, Rise of the Dragon, represents the mythical beast which has been amassing power throughout its long hibernation, and has now awoken to face the new year with renewed vitality.

Kwai Chai Hong will be open to the public daily from 9 am to 12 am. The Rise of the Dragon installation will be available from 25 January 2024 to 3 March 2024

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