Jiawei Gong made an American flag from sugar at the Reading Public Museum. This art work, created in early June, will be on view until July 8. Tibetan monks traditionally use colored sand to create mandalas, often composed of circular shapes based on Buddhist cosmology. Jiawei is not a Tibetan monk, he is a Chinese-born Professor of Fine Art at Kutztown University. This is not a traditional mandala, nor a traditional stars and stripes. The 50 stars are white sugar. Dark and light brown sugar replace the blue field and red stripes.
Jiawei’s tools are authentic. He briskly runs a metal rod along a long fluted copper funnel filled with sugar. The right level of vibration sends sugar grains spilling consistently from the funnel’s tip. Jiawei allowed visitors, including me, to try our hand with these tools on a second platform. His wife Wen assisted him ably, but I found the process is not as easy as it looks.
I asked Jiawei about the meaning of the work. He told me to look at the words on the wall. I looked at the museum wall expecting to see a statement. “Sweet Salvation” -is all it says on the wall. Jiawei, I think, wants each viewer to come away with their own meaning. Sweet.
More of Jiawei Gong’s work can be found at www.jiaweigong.com