Simple dough, made from flour and water is used for everything from feeding the masses to making toys in China. Highly personalised toys. Personalised toys made out of what can be cooked and eaten.
Across China, a special type of sculpting has been passed down from generations to generations. It's basically taking a lump of dough and kneading it into a dummy or cartoonish version of a person.
This type of "cultural" art has been used in China as a forms of cheap entertainment. Beijing based "dough kneading" master Mr. Li has been making sculptures out of dough for over three decades, even appearing on Beijing TV. Working out of a tiny stall in the Wangfujing Snack street, Mr. Li shows offs finished models, everything from tiny Obamas to adorable Governators.
What makes Mr. Li special is that his dough sculptures are slightly different. Instead of having completely new bodies made up on the fly, he has predetermined bodies. These bodies are also made of dough, just not on the fly. Li's bodies come from the world of video games, manga, anime, and general pop culture.
Want to see your head on the body of a big-chested anime character? Can do. Want your giant head on the body of Detective Conan? It can be done. All it takes is about 20 minutes and $45.
Li says that he sculpts ten to fifteen people a day and that the foreigners tend to go bigger and more extravagant while the Chinese tourists tend to go for the more reserved looks. Li also sells sculptures with normal bodies. Custom orders are available on request. Li doesn't explain what's added to the dough to make sure it doesn't go bad, or how it keeps shape even though it's completely dried out.
The art of making toys out of dough can supposedly be traced back to using dough as effigies. Tales of what Zhuge Kongming did with dough during the Three Kingdom Era come to mind—but people have been playing with their food for ages.
My statue looks good enough to eat. I think maybe I'll get a sugar sculpture made of myself the next time I'm looking to stroke my ego.
Photos by: Andy Lee Chaisiri and Eric Jou
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