What crucial role does craftsmanship play in daily life that often slips by our notice? Beyond appreciation of the visual, what are the hidden values of crafts? Under the themes of immigration, migration, and multiculturalism, how can we see new sides to the art of craftsmanship?
Both Canada and Taiwan are societies primarily composed of immigrant populations. The cultural, artistic, and lifestyle changes that occur as a result of migration are significant and topics worthy of exploration for both countries. Craftsmanship serves as a link between communities, skills, cultures, and even the natural environment and ethical values. It allows us to contemplate the evolution of human movement and cultural exchange.
Collaborating with the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute, “Migration & Arts” invites six Taiwanese craft artists to showcase their artistic creations at the event. They will personally share the creative concepts and cultural significance behind their works. This exhibition aims to convey the cultural narratives and social aesthetics embedded in craftsmanship beyond the visual aspect. By engaging in cross-cultural dialogues with local artists and diverse communities, this initiative is an opportunity to appreciate the unique beauty of Taiwanese craftsmanship on a deeper level.
Chienhua (flower wrapping) is a traditional handicraft in Taiwan, which combines the techniques of paper-cutting, winding, and embroidery. Depending on the region, this art form is called “Chunzai Flower” in southern Fujian, “Tangled Flower” in Hakka, and “Jihua” in Kinmen. These varieties between regions show Taiwan’s diverse and rich cultural ethics.
Wrapped flowers are generally used on auspicious occasions, especially in traditional weddings. They are full of blessings and symbolize happiness. This kind of traditional handicraft not only shows people’s yearning for a better life, but also represents Taiwan’s distinctive folk crafts connected to a rich cultural heritage. In Canadian Indigenous culture, sweetgrass is braided, which also holds the meaning of blessing and spiritual healing.
Huei-Mei Chen integrates cultural ethics into her creations, giving this art a more profound meaning. Through the process of making flower wrappings, traditional etiquette, family affection, and festivities are presented in the meticulous work, which also promotes the generational knowledge and development of these values in the contemporary era.
The art of wrapped flowers represents Taiwanese folk art creation and aesthetics. It’s also a practical manifestation of cultural ethics. Taiwan’s cultural diversity and traditional values have been condensed, and it has become an important link connecting the past and the present and passing it on to future generations.
In the year 1950, artisan Huei-Mei Chen was born in Luodong, Yilan. She originally worked in leather craftsmanship but later met her mentor, Grandma Chen Ai Yu Hsieh, from whom she learned the Minnan wrapped flower technique. Over the past twenty years, she has not only specialized in Hakka wrapped flowers, Jinmen “Ji-Hua,” and other regional techniques, but also re-interpreted them and blended them, forming a unique personal style of wrapped flowers that became her lifelong dedication.
Huei-Mei Chen has held numerous solo exhibitions and taught classes throughout Taiwan, actively participating in international cultural exchange activities. She has collaborated with fashion designers, propelling wrapped flower art onto the international stage. Committed to promoting the art of wrapped flowers, she has become a mentor for this craft in Taiwan. In 2020, she was recognized by the Ministry of Culture as an important preserver of the wrapped flower art.
Huei-Mei Chen combines techniques from both the southern and northern wrapped flowers, forming the “Four Elements”: materials, tools, techniques, and procedures. She has named various techniques and components, establishing the fundamental teaching and grading standards for wrapped flowers in Taiwan. Wrapped flower art is a traditional Taiwanese handicraft with regional variations. It is often used in auspicious occasions, particularly in traditional weddings, symbolizing good blessings and showcasing profound cultural heritage.
Her intricate skills are closely connected with social etiquette and daily life, presenting the aesthetic beauty of ordinary people’s lives. She harmoniously blends traditional techniques while showcasing Taiwanese cultural characteristics, injecting traditional craftsmanship with modern creativity. This makes her an exemplary representative of Minnan and Hakka cultural handcrafts.
Mei-Lien Kuan is an enthusiast of traditional Indonesian batik. She creatively integrates Taiwanese culture into her batik artworks. This cross-cultural fusion not only makes her batik creations captivating, but also showcases the mutual respect and inclusivity between cultures. Her creations transcend personal artistry to become a platform for cross-cultural exchanges. By connecting Indonesian and Taiwanese elements, it fosters greater understanding, communication, and appreciation of different cultures, promoting a society that values and embraces diversity. This resonates with the Indonesian-Canadian community’s sense of unity, showcasing the new face of cultures blending together.
This fusion influences both art and social aesthetics. Through such exchanges, we learn to respect, embrace, and appreciate one another, building a harmonious social atmosphere and advancing the development of cultural exchange. Mei-Lien Kuan’s achievements in batik art illustrate the integration of traditional craftsmanship and Taiwanese culture, bringing profound meaning and value to our diverse society.
The development of Indonesian batik extends beyond traditional forms. During the Dutch colonial period, the Dutch brought back Indonesian batik to Europe. It was considered a luxury item. It subsequently spread throughout Europe and other regions as a fashionable and artistic craft. However, Indonesian batik has always retained its indigenous characteristic, and in recent times has seen a rise in value.
Mei-Lien Kuan is a passionate artisan in the field of batik art. Growing up in a family involved in fabric trading and production in Indonesia, she developed a deep affinity for batik clothing from a young age. Despite a pause in the family’s clothing business, with the support of her family in Taiwan, she continues to engage in her beloved batik art during her spare time.
Mei-Lien Kuan has an intricate understanding of fabrics, and knowledge of batik patterns that vary based on the folk styles of different regions in Indonesia. She particularly adores batik from the Jakarta region because of its vibrant colours and lively style, which aligns with her own personality.
Mei-Lien Kuan once traveled to East Java, Indonesia, with her daughter Yu Zhen Liu, to study with professionals and learn more in-depth knowledge and techniques of batik. In her creations, she integrates symbols from Taiwanese culture, attempting to showcase the fusion and transformation between Taiwanese and Indonesian cultures. Such creative exploration imbues her batik works with a unique style and charm.
Thi Tuyệt Nguyễn is a passionate craftswoman who embarked on a journey of cross-cultural integration with traditional quilling art in Taiwan. In her new life and cultural environment, she beautifully bridges quilling art with Taiwanese culture, fostering a wonderful exchange of art and expressing her cross-cultural identity. Thi Tuyệt Nguyễn demonstrates a curious and keen eye for local elements and themes, skillfully incorporating them into her quilling artworks. Her works can resonate with the historical memories of Vietnamese immigrants in Canada, highlighting the emotional connection of a shared mother culture.
Thi Tuyệt Nguyễn actively participates in cultural activities within the Taiwanese community, using quilling art to lead emotional interactions. Her work and dedication enhances the vibrancy of the local community. Her involvement in translation and communication assistance at the immigration agency also makes her a social aesthetic practitioner. This seamless combination perfectly showcases the fusion of traditional craftsmanship and social aesthetics, promoting new artistic vitality and cultural brilliance into Taiwan. Thi Tuyệt Nguyễn’s passion and creativity enriches the diversity and inclusivity of traditional crafts and also inspires people’s pursuit of beauty and cultural heritage. Her efforts drive a new wave of social aesthetics, allowing people to find inner tranquility in the shifting ocean of art and culture.
Despite French colonial rule, Vietnamese quilling art and its long-standing traditional cultural significance was preserved. While resisting foreign influences, the Vietnamese quilling artists at that time insisted on the inheritance of traditional skills. They use these quilling art paintings to express Vietnam’s history, religion, and daily life, and incorporate Buddhist elements and other local cultural characteristics into their works. Such persistence has allowed the art of Vietnamese quilling art to continue to spread and maintain its uniqueness during the colonial period.
When this traditional art was brought to Taiwan with Thi Tuyệt Nguyễn, it underwent some changes. In a new living and cultural environment, she searched for a sense of identity in a foreign land. And so, the cultural exchange through quilling art began. Thi Tuyệt Nguyễn, as a craftsman, incorporates local elements and themes into her work to show her cross-cultural identity and life experience. At the same time, she actively participates in the cultural activities of the Taiwanese community, memorializing the emotional interactions between community neighbours through quilling art. Thi Tuyệt Nguyễn also gives back to Taiwanese society through her work of assisting the immigration agency with translation and communication.
These actions make her quilling art more diverse and inclusive, while reflecting her efforts to seek symbiosis and co-prosperity in the new environment. Her efforts not only enrich Taiwan’s cultural diversity, but also demonstrate the adaptability and vitality of the craft. Thi Tuyệt Nguyễn’s personal experience and works have become a vivid example of the important role that art plays in cultural exchange and social change.
The traditional art of bulrush weaving has evolved into a diverse modern lifestyle. While preserving ancient techniques and culture, bulrush weaving craft masters actively infuse humanities and aesthetics into their creations, giving them a contemporary touch. Their works have expanded beyond traditional hats to include home decor and accessories. This fusion with creativity and fashion appeals to a broad market and aligns with modern society, ensuring its continued prosperity. Bulrush weaving in Yuanli Township is a source of pride, not only receiving local recognition but also promoting Taiwan’s unique charm in a diverse society, a symbol of cultural heritage.
Different ethnic groups have their own cultural weaving heritage, such as Canadian Indigenous people using tree bark to weave hats that carry history and social values. Bulrush weaving in Yuanli has a long history, with women skillfully using bulrush to create hats and mats. It not only showcases their technical prowess but also their aesthetic appreciation of nature and life. During the Japanese colonial period, bulrush weaving became an export product, highlighting its cultural allure. In modern times, it has incorporated humanities and aesthetics, creating diverse works that have become a way of life. Bulrush weaving transcends cultures, a respected and culturally rich way to exchange and represent the local community.
Intangible Cultural Heritage Artisan：
The bulrush weaving craft of Yuanli in Taiwan dates back to a document from the fifth year of the Qing Yongzheng period. Nurtured by its unique climate and environment, the triangular bulrush is an indigenous species of Taiwan. This local hand-woven craft industry emerged through the cultural fusion of local Indigenous people of the Pingpu Taokas tribe, as well as the Hokkien and Hakka ethnic groups, for over a century. The bulrush weaving technique, passed down through generations of women, became Taiwan’s third-largest export after sugar and rice during the Japanese colonial period. The women of Yuanli wove bulrush hats and mats as a means of supporting their families. The fragrance of bulrush permeated every household, a shared memory of the people of Yuanli.
However, with the rise of industrialization, cheap plastic products gradually replaced traditional handcrafted industries. Many bulrush weavers had to shift to factory or other industrial work for a livelihood, leading to the gradual decline of the industry. Over a decade ago, local residents of Yuanli united to preserve this precious bulrush weaving craft, forming the “Taiwan Yuan-Li Handiwork Association.” Their primary focus has been on preserving and promoting the art of bulrush weaving. After years of effort, dozens of bulrush weaving artisans have rekindled these traditional skills, leading to the establishment of the craft brand “Tshioh Rushcraft”!
The core philosophy behind Tshioh Rushcraft is “sensory experience, continuing tradition, and innovative design.” By enabling today’s individuals to appreciate the natural beauty of traditional craftsmanship, they have brought the art of bulrush weaving into contemporary life. Through innovative transformation and marketing of the bulrush weaving craft, they are revitalizing the bulrush weaving industry, creating new opportunities for its development.
Huei-Ting Tsai, building upon the foundation of traditional bamboo art techniques, ingeniously integrates Tainan’s humanities and lifestyle aesthetics into her bamboo art creations. She uses bamboo and rattan to create baskets, lampshades, furniture, and other pieces, combining modern needs with the beauty of bamboo art. By deconstructing traditional craftsmanship and reassembling it to meet contemporary demands, Huei-Ting Tsai intertwines bamboo art with present-day culture. Her efforts not only enrich Tainan’s cultural heritage but also bring benefits in terms of social aesthetics, promoting the inheritance and development of bamboo art culture. For traditional craft masters in Canada, natural materials are closely linked to human life. Sustainability is one of Canada’s core values, reflecting respect for the natural environment, and Huei-Ting Tsai’s works resonate greatly.
Craft masters infuse local humanities and lifestyle aesthetics into their creations, endowing their works with unique regional flavours and cultural characteristics. Cultural heritage shared through aesthetics promotes appreciation for diverse cultures. Natural material craftsmanship not only embodies practicality and aesthetics but also underscores the close connection between humans, nature, and culture. This kind of exchange and innovation fosters a more harmonious society and a more fulfilling cultural exchange.
During the Japanese colonial era, the government established bamboo weaving workshops in Guanmiao and Zhushan, which facilitated Taiwan’s transition from bamboo crafts as everyday items to an industry model. However, around 1956, the influx of plastic products into the market affected Guanmiao’s bamboo weaving industry, leading it to shift towards rattan processing. It was the foundation of bamboo weaving that enabled the rise of the rattan furniture industry in Guanmiao.
Craftswoman Huei-Ting Tsai founded “Bamboo Says” workshop in Tainan, with a deep connection to the local community. She extensively explored Guanmiao and Longqi, studying works by Tainan’s bamboo artisans such as Yong-chong Mo, Ming-hui Weng, and Jing-zhi Lu. She visited local elders to learn their bamboo weaving techniques, emphasizing craft education to promote Tainan’s bamboo art culture. Huei-Ting Tsai believes that bamboo weaving requires logical thinking, and splitting bamboo demands precise control of the bamboo-splitting knife, as it affects the final aesthetics and load-bearing capability. For bamboo artisans, bamboo splitting is the most challenging due to the dimensions of the bamboo strips. The design process starts with material handling. She advocates for “old items, new uses,” or repurposing traditional materials for modern applications. Examples include transforming fish traps into bags, or reusing trap covers as coffee filters. Crafts can address contemporary issues, as demand remains relevant and adaptable over time.
Crafts embody culture and history. Their functions and techniques remain applicable in modern times despite changing needs. Huei-Ting Tsai’s exploration and innovation highlights the diverse applications of crafts, underscoring their continued significance in the modern world.
In ancient times of the distant past, Indigenous tribes have adapted swiftly and wisely to the shifting natural environment brought about by human migration. Their intergenerational wisdom, coupled with traditional ways of life, techniques, and culture, ensured the establishment of sustainable lifestyles in new environments. This passing on of knowledge was particularly important when migrating to different regions. Indigenous communities demonstrated unique insights in adapting to environmental needs, constructing structures with specific functions based on geographical conditions.
Imay and her colleagues use the fibre from natural materials, emphasizing the continuation of crafts using umbrella grass, a significant material for Amis women’s woven mats. Meanwhile, Canadian Indigenous peoples also use natural materials like tree bark for daily items and ceremonial purposes. As tribes traverse the vast Canadian landscape, their culture gradually evolves. As this Taiwanese Indigenous crafts master crosses the ocean for a cultural and artistic exchange, what kinds of inspirations will occur? Different cultures affect each other, and create refreshing art. This exchange presents an interesting opportunity for the blending of cultural essences and mutual inspiration between different cultures.
In the tribe, when guests arrive, we say “maro’ (please, have a seat)”; when we return to grandma’s house, she says, “kamaro’ (this is where you sit).” For young people coming home, “kamaro’an” means, stay here, don’t leave again.
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one or no animal is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” Imay, from the Amis tribe, and her colleagues are documenting ancient Amis weaving artefacts, and then continuing the weaving with their own hands.
Imay has conducted various studies, on traditional dances, the last thatched house in the tribe, recorded chants… She wanted to learn string instruments or the pipa so she could preserve ancient melodies, because if they are not sung, they will be forgotten. She has always been curious about the ocean; Orchid Island is a maritime place, each tribe has its own migration paths and norms, and their worldview is interconnected with the ocean. The Amis on the main island are coastal people; their vocabulary includes tides, the moon, and stargazing, yet they lack the concept of long-distance voyages.
Every ethnic group’s worldview is formed this way. Imay’s grandfather told her that the sea is fluid. When written down, it becomes stagnant. One must live life with the body, not just record it. So, she started making wine and weaving.
“Kamaro’an” isn’t just a brand; it’s a connection between this group of people and nature, the past, and the future. It is a stable and steadfast relationship.
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TAIWANfest Vancouver is grateful to be held on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). We acknowledge our privilege to be gathered here, and commit to work with and be respectful to the Indigenous peoples of this land while we engage in meaningful conversations of culture and reconciliation.