As you walk toward the Linden Centre, you can’t help but notice that next to the iconic orange wall of the Centre stands a statue made up of black, brown, and copper tones. To many it looks strange, but to locals, the form of the statue is obvious: it’s a Bai woman,wearing a traditional headdress, threshing rice stalks against a large basket. The statue is named “A Hua” or Little Flower, a popular name used to describe Bai women in the Dali region.
Metal artist Josh Hadar partnered with the Linden Centre and Dali Technician College to host a metalworking workshop for three days, where he and five of the College’s top welding students created A Hua. Three days ended up being a bit rushed; given more time, the end result could have been a more polished, Hadar insists. But alas, Josh’s schedule was already packed. He had been on tour in China for the past three weeks with installations in Beijing and Shanghai, and while Dali might not be the obvious choice for the last stop on this whirlwind tour, the tour organizers felt it would be a good opportunity to partner with rural villagers. They were right – Josh loved the hospitality of the Bai people and his experience in rural China, describing it as “life altering.”
While in Dali, Hadar took part in local activities to look for inspiration: visiting the famous Erhai lake, sauntering through old villages, and making his own tie-dye using traditional Bai methods. But of course, as these things go, it was an unplanned event that happened to coincide with his visit that inspired him: the rice harvesting festival, a tradition that had fallen by the way-side but is now making a comeback. During this festival, hosted right outside the Linden Centre walls, Hadar witnessed Bai women harvesting rice stalks and threshing them against bamboo baskets. Inspired by this scene, he decided to immortalize the tenacity of the local women through sculpture.
Josh sits across from me, arms folded across his chest, as I ask him why he likes metalwork. “The physicality, the hammering, the heat,” he replies, with a glimmer in his eyes. And I could see why. Three days in the workshop had given me some perspective; the cacophonous noises and sights – the thunderous whirring of huge machines, sparks that flew from insanely hot copper wire, and students carefully scurrying about had an odd appeal to me. The entire experience was not too different than being at a rock concert and I think that’s what appealed to Josh and now me – the rawness, the fierce intensity, and the overstimulation of it all.
Hadar hasn’t always known metalwork is his calling. In fact, metalworking is Josh’s second career. He studied film in college, worked in the industry for years, and formed his own company. But, in what seemed like a sudden jump, he sold his company and transitioned from business to art. Why? The problem, he says, was that the film industry never gave him “the chance to create.” Looking straight at me, Hadar excitedly raises his hand and exclaims, “I know what I want. I want to build something!”
He got his start in true New Yorker fashion – by finding old scrap bicycles in a dumpster while on a date. These scrap bicycles he transformed into a slick electric bike which he then proceeded to ride around Soho, New York’s art district. Though it wasn’t his intention, these daily bike rides turned out to be the perfect marketing technique and just like that, Hadar launched his art career. Never forgetting what inspired his involvement in the art world, Josh continues to transform scrap materials into new creations. Since that first bike project, Hadar has always done everything by hand, opting not to enlist the help of large machines to shape his creations. The rationale, he shares, is because “metal is my brother – if I can use my own hands to feel the metal, it becomes a dialogue between person and material.” Doing metalwork by hand obviously takes a lot more effort but being able to truly relate to the material gives him great joy.
It’s this attitude towards making and creating, the attitude of wonder and excitement that sees each piece of metal or junkyard scrap as full of potential and not trash, that Josh wants most to pass along to the students at Dali Technician College. He reflects, “Throughout the project, it’s been evident that the students really like the work. Maybe they will continue in the welding industry, in shipmaking or sculpture or architecture, and those are all great. But if they truly love it, I want them to know that there are more options, more than what they’ve been trained to do. They should go for it! Metalworking is an ancient craft and there are tons of branches and applications they ought to explore.”
Check out this sweet video which shows the workshop in action!!