Qixi Fest 2023: Forgotten No More
As Singapore underwent rapid industrialisation, some cultural elements became lost to time. Finding these past relics helps to humanise and better understand our forefathers’ lived experiences. Qixi Festival (七夕节), which was supposedly grander than Chinese New Year, is making a comeback after more than 50 years, with a welcoming visual identity to boot.
Spearheaded by a Singaporean cultural researcher Lynn Wong and with the support of the Singapore Tourism Board, The Qixi Fest spans seven weekends from 7 July, and will end with a mega carnival at Smith Street this weekend.
The Legend of Qixi Festival
Qixi Fest’s website summarises the legend well:
Qixi Festival is traditionally celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. The myth behind Qixi Festival is that of the Weaver Girl (织女, symbolised by the Vega star), a fairy that fell in love with the mortal Cowherd (牛郎, symbolised by the Altair star). As their romance was forbidden by the Jade Emperor, they were banished to opposite sides of the Milky Way. They are only able to reunite across the stars every year on the day of Qixi Festival, on a bridge formed by magpies.
Since the 19th century, women organisations in Singapore have celebrated this festival by making elaborate handicraft and displaying them during their open houses. The crafts ranged from melon-carved lanterns to intricately embroidered table runners. Festival-goers would also wish upon the stars to become skillful in the arts, such as in needlework and handicrafts.
Qixi Fest Visual Identity
It is only apt that a festival with such a large focus on handicraft has a great visual identity to celebrate its return.
Taking inspiration from a traditional Chinese seal, the words on the logo are handwritten to give off a homemade, authentic feel. It is also a nod to the festival’s celebration of handiwork.
Often seen alongside the logo, the mascot Qiqi (seven seven in Mandarin) is a chibi-style illustrated magpie, which gathers in droves to form a bridge for the two lovers to meet annually according to the legend.
Qiqi happens to be bald because one of the lovebirds stepped on its head while crossing the magpie bridge - what a cheeky way to weave in the legend in the mascot’s appearance!
Whether Qiqi is depicted writing Chinese calligraphy or threading a needle, it looks like a very inviting mascot not unlike a cartoon character in a children’s book. The Qixi Fest’s visual identity was likely designed for young families in mind, to ensure future generations remember this annual celebration.
Creative Partnerships and the Grand Finale
The mega carnival to mark the end of Qixi Fest at Smith Street will be packed with creative activities.
Most impressively, 1,000 magpie crochet plushies arranged to form a bridge will be displayed. They were made by volunteers and beneficiaries of Qixi Fest’s heritage awareness programme.
There will also be an interactive magpie plushie workshop by Tiny Rabbit Hole during the carnival.
Separately, Qixi Fest collaborated with three female artists (a painter, Chinese calligraphist and a ceramicist) who created art inspired by the festival. Here are their stories:
Kay Kok Chung Oi - Five artworks of the “Inspired by Qixi” collection
Elaine Chan (Inklings Creative Studio) - three calligraphy works of the “她的故事 Her Story” collection
Ng Yang Ce - ‘星河 (Milky Way)’ collectible cup and saucer set
From Forgotten to Unforgettable
Overall, it was a smart choice to go with a friendly aesthetic as it would attract the attention of young Singaporeans. Traditional crafts have always been respectable art forms, but for them to stand a chance of reaching the masses in the social media age, they have to be repackaged to suit modern tastes. Qixi Fest managed to brand a century-old festival for the next generation without compromising its core spirit and activities.
Heritage festivals like these remind us that Singapore is and always has been culturally rich, especially if you know where - or how far back - to look. How female artisans (even though those were not their job titles but their handcraft skills effectively make them) came together to celebrate their talents is inspiring, and Qixi Fest’s attempt to revive this spirit of collectively making art should be supported by the local creative community.