Rebellious Soul: The Peasant Dance

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Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side

Curated by Leo Yuan

Pieter Bruegel, The Peasant Dance, 1567

Flemish painter, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted The Peasant Dance, as a part of his series about peasant life. It embraces a down-to-earth tone about peasants' life that's full of lurid desire, seemingly foolish behavior, and no delicateness whatsoever. We see all sorts of provincial doings here – anger, lust gluttony, and vanity, as symbolized by the peacock feather – fully occupying their minds. Strangely, this vivid scene doesn't grab me with feelings of happiness. Instead, the more I look at this painting, and the series, the more creeped-out I feel. I feel like they are being watched. Their lust, their love, their unspeakable business and sins are all revealed blatantly. By God? Probably. Or simply by an onlooker, like the painter, or us, viewers of the painting.

The cause of this revelry is a saint's day. Yet we see no saint. Peasants turn their back on Mary's image on the tree, and are gravitated to the tavern, completely ignoring the church in the back. They have a noble cause to celebrate, but at this moment, their minds have no room for spiritual matters. And when will there be one? I assume that would be times of hunger, poverty, death, and misfortune. I picture them staring at a handful of potatoes on the table, praying for a light winter; mothers at their ill son's beds, praying for health. But in the end, the poor starve, and the son dies. So they come back to church, begging for God's mercy. However, deep down, they have no regrets. A couple of good cups of wine will bring them right back to dancing. They are unteachable rebels, maybe we all are. They eat, drink, and produce children, for they know life goes on with or without them. And that is the hard truth, the hard truth of nature. They have no respect for the rest.

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