Sat, Sep 08, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Tree of Life show rooted in tradition

A traveling exhibition showcasing the work of traditional craftspeople and artists from 16 nations in South, Central and Southeast Asia, along with works by Taiwanese, is in Taipei for five months

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

The Peach Tree of Immortality, an indigo batik by Taiwanese artist Cho Tzu-lo, is part of the “Tree of Life” exhibition.

Credit: Diane Baker, Taipei Times

The tree of life is an archetype and motif found in cultures, mythologies and religions around the world, and has served as inspiration for craftspeople and artists for thousands of years.

The tree can represent eternal life, the mysteries of creation or a connecting link between human beings, the cosmos and the divine.

For Buddhists, Bodhi trees came to be seen as sacred for it was under one that Buddha attained enlightenment; in Islam, the Shajarat Al-Tuba or tree of bliss, is found in paradise, where its bark is used to make the clothes worn by the inhabitants; in Judaism and Christianity, the tree of life is mentioned in Genesis as the center of the Garden of Eden, where it bore fruit all year long; in China, the goddess Xi Wangmu (西王母) grew peaches of immortality on a giant tree that linked heaven and earth; to the Iban of Borneo, the tree of life is the connection between heaven and earth.

The image of the tree of life, or parts of it, can be found in everything from stone carvings, jewelry, carpets and leatherwork to embroidery, clothing, paintings and ceramics, in a variety of forms and shapes.

The commonality of the motif is what first inspired Malaysian architect-turned-designer Edric Ong (王良民) and Crafts Council of India vice president Manjari Nirula, who met each other through their work with the World Craft Council, to organize a Malaysia-India exhibition of traditional craft works in 2003.

It brought them together again three years ago to curate an exhibition in Kuala Lumpur of more than 200 works by craftspeople and artists from 18 nations in South, Central and Southeast Asia, centered around the tree of life.

A smaller version of show traveled to India, followed by stops in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Vancouver, Canada. In each country, local curators were brought on to mount the show and select pieces by artists and craftspeople from their nations to be included.

Exhibition notes:

WHAT: Tree of Life

WHEN: Through Jan. 27 next year; Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30am to 5:30pm

WHERE: National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute Taipei Branch (臺北當代工藝設計分館), 4F, No. 41, Nanhai Road, Taipei City (台北市南海路41號4樓); tel: (02) 2388-7066 and (02) 2388-9969.



The National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute brought the show to Taiwan, first to its headquarters in Puli, Nantou County, for four months, before moving it to Taipei, where it opened on Aug. 31 for a five-month run.

Two Taipei National University of the Arts faculty, Chen Wan-lee (陳婉麗), a professor in the theatrical design and technology department as well as a clothing designer, and Chiang Min-chin (江明親), an assistant professor at the Graduate Institute of Architecture and Cultural Heritage, served as the Taiwanese curators.

For Ong and Nirula, preserving traditional craftsmanship is not just about keeping old crafts alive, but of ensuring that they remain viable culturally and economically, and exhibitions such as the “Tree of Life” can help do that.

In an interview on May 5 in Puli, Nirula said that finding new markets for traditional craftspeople and artisans is crucial if these arts are to survive. The growing trend toward environmentalism and ecological sustainability is actually helping in this effort, she said.

A fashion show yesterday morning that was part of the official opening ceremony for the Taipei exhibition featured works by four designers, including Ong, promoting the exhibition’s message through the use of traditional plant dyes, fiber technology and other materials.

Ong’s outfits included handpainted designs on reworked leather jackets and woven hats based on a traditional Iban Topi Tunjang design — an example of which is in the show — while young Kyrgyz designer Yntymak Abdyldaev, who just graduated from university in May last year, uses felt, a traditional staple material of his nomadic people, as well as ancient shamanic motifs in his clothing.

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