January 19 – September 2, 2024

Woven Into Refinement

Exhibition

Taiwan

Woven into refinement

Imay • apong for Kamaro’an. Photo courtesy of the artist

Event Info At A Glance

Price Overview: Free

Venue Overview: West Vitrines

Overview

For centuries, the island nation of Taiwan has sustained the growing habitats of bamboo, bulrush and banana throughout the country due to its humid, subtropical climate. Woven into RefinementA Sampling of Contemporary Fibre Works from Taiwan uses the fibre found in these plant species.  

This exhibition, in collaboration with four weaving design studios, takes time-honoured techniques and materials into a contemporary dialogue, representing makers from the Indigenous peoples of Hualien County to the metropolitan capital of Taipei. Each studio recognizes the significance of collaboration with non-urban communities to grow, harvest, design and weave. While the craft industry was once in decline decades ago, thanks to the rise of plastic and mass-produced products, these objects are meant to celebrate the ingenuity and dedication to form and pattern and the renaissance of functional, well-made, everyday items. 

Woven into RefinementA Sampling of Contemporary Fibre Works from Taiwan is presented in partnership with Lunarfest GTA. Special thanks to the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute (NTCRI). 

About Huei-Ting Tsai for Bamboo Says 

Taiwan has an abundance of bamboo and many types of it, too. Everything from fishing baskets to sitting stools to baby cradles and ceremonial shields seen in temple festivals is made of bamboo. Bamboo hats were once an everyday accessory worn by everyone, regardless of gender. But 60 years ago, these familiar bamboo pieces were gradually replaced by plastic.  

Founder of the Bamboo Says workshop, Huei-Ting Tsai, believes that even if traditional needs are replaced by newer mediums, the skills and characteristics of bamboo weaving can still solve the problems of modern society. And so, she dismantled the structure of the bamboo hat and redesigned it into a modern lamp. Following the gentle light, the tradition of bamboo weaving can settle again in everyone’s home.  

Bamboo weaving is a logical process that requires clear and precise thinking. A bamboo weaving course at the university started an intimate dialogue between Tsai and bamboo. Spotting her talent, her teacher invited her to be an assistant, and step-by-step, she learned. Now, she can walk into a bamboo forest with steady hands to cut, collect and split bamboo (which is no easy feat). The result of her work is not only about aesthetics but functionality. She uses bamboo and rattan to create baskets, lampshades, furniture and other pieces.  

Tsai has worked with her craftsman predecessors and visited local elders. She works with a new generation of makers that brings back the tradition to modern living within the concept of “old items, new uses.” 

About Cai-Cing Wu and Syue-Yun Wun for Taiwan Yuan-Li Handiwork Association x Tshioh Rushcraft 

Bulrush woven crafts were once Taiwan’s third largest export product after sugar and rice. The women of Yuanli wove bulrush hats and mats to support their families. The fragrance of bulrush permeated every household, a shared memory of the people of Yuanli.   

Industrial manufacturing replaced bulrush weaving. Mothers who used to stay at home to weave straw mats went into factories and the bulrush scent gradually disappeared from the streets. A collective of people who had watched their mothers and grandmothers weave straw mats reinvigorated this old-world practise with the Taiwan Yuan-Li Handiwork Association, bringing back this craft tradition. They invited dozens of craftsmen to return to their old trade and established the brand Tshioh Rushcraft to integrate bulrush weaving into contemporary life and highlight this aspect of local culture.   

Cai-Cing Wu and Syue-Yun Wun have been weaving with their families since they were young. During an era when the fragrance of bulrushes permeated Yuanli, children as young as primary school students watched and learned how to weave to help their families make ends meet. As they grew up, they also encountered industrialization, eventually entering factories to work. Wu was one of the first crafts masters invited by the Taiwan Yuan-Li Handiwork Association in 2002, bringing neat and efficient techniques. Fellow crafts master Wun collaborates with designers to put shape to their imagination. She participated in the project Warm Rush Curtain, which won an award in the MUJI Award International Design Competition in 2013.  

Even though these two artists had put bulrush weaving aside for 30 years, both have a wealth of experience and can quickly calculate the bulrush needed for work before execution. 

About Imay • apong for Kamaro’an  

About Yu Ying Yan, Ngolan (Shu Yueh Chieh) and Shu Chin Chieh for Lala Ban Banana Fibre Workshop

The beauty of banana fibre weaving is a treasure that the world has not yet fully discovered.   

“In order to make clothes, we are going to cut down this banana tree.” Cigarettes and rice wine are placed in front of the tree, and the tribespeople thank their ancestors for the gift. The Kavalan tribe originally lived in the plains, but foreign factors caused them to migrate, resulting in a loss of language and culture, until the Kavalan peoples began to disappear. Lala Ban Banana Fibre Workshop originated from a movement to reclaim the Indigenous tribe’s culture. The Kavalan people are actively declaring their existence to the world and are searching for the memories of their mother sitting on the ground, weaving an entire language and culture with banana fibre. It is a collaborative effort that involves all the women and all the men: cutting down the trees, scraping the bark, drying in the sun, threading, natural dyeing, and spinning the thread.   

Matriarch of the studio, Yu Ying Yen is a preserver of banana fibre weaving. Her husband, Wan Lai Chieh is the leader of the Kavalan reclamation movement. Her mother, believing that traditional weaving would eventually be left behind in modern times, did not teach her how to weave. Yen learned how to weave when she was 62 years old. She and her daughters Shu Chin Chieh and Ngolan learned from the hands of three craftsmen how to use fragile banana fibre to weave a clear and enduring path of inheritance as they rebuild their tribe’s memory. While reclaiming their identity, they struggled to remember their traditional regalia. The family found them, instead, thousands of miles away, in the Royal Ontario Museum, in a collection brought to Canada by missionary George Leslie Mackay in the 19th century. Mackay’s mission led him to stay with the Kavalan tribe in Taiwan. Many tribes used “Chieh,” derived from Mackay’s name, as their Chinese surname, which became a significant clue in the search for Kavalan tribe members in the reclamation movement. The museum’s collections greatly inspired the family and made them more determined to do restoration work.   

Sitting in the Lala Ban Banana Fibre Workshop, Yu Ying Yen continues to thread, weave, and learn well into her late 80’s. 

About Lunarfest GTA

Beginning in 2012, The Taiwanese Canadian Association of Toronto wanted to develop a new event to reach new Canadians and those who have been here for many generations to share in the diversity of Canada. It also encourages and fosters the collaboration of Canadian and International cultural presenters to create new forms of artistic expressions. LunarFest is a festival that brings together Soul, Art and Life on one stage.

LunarFest was designed to be a festival that celebrates one of the oldest traditions for many Asian cultures – Lunar New Year – LunarFest aims to collaborate with many Asian communities and outreaches to other Canadians. Since its inception, LunarFest has partnered with several programming partners including The Harbourfront Centre, Fort York National Historic Site, Metro Hall, The Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, and the Varley Art Gallery of Markham. 

Venue

West Vitrines

235 Queens Quay West
Toronto ON M5J 2G8

Keywords Free Event