I was flipping through a CB2 catalog and came across this. (See description below.) They are pretty cool and all, but there is a part of me that finds the ad repugnant. I think it has to do with the marketing of this art and how an indigenous Taiwanese cultural tradition is being reinterpreted and then packaged and sold to a Western market as some sort of curiosity. And, of course, there is the ubiquitous mention of how your purchase of this product is going to help out poor, starving villagers somewhere else.
Looking at this ad, and the picture of the product, I wonder about Kaludasan and if he ever envisioned his work travelling so far across the globe. I don’t blame him for selling his work to CB2 (or think it was a wrong choice to make), but I do wonder at how these pieces will be treated by future generations. It seems like the ad places so much emphasis on how this is a contemporary interpretation of a Taiwanese cultural tradition. What happens when these objects are removed from their culture? Is hanging on an American family’s wall their new culture? If somebody gets tired of it ten years later and throws it in the trash, is that part of the culture? What if they end up at thrift stores?
Obviously, the questions I’m asking based on this advertisement have less to do with the wabelerbeler art than to do with my own artwork. I worry about having my work boxed into a cultural corner. I worry about it like a parent worries about their children. What will happen to it when I let it go out into the world? Perhaps I need to take an approach more like Kaludasan and just let them go where they go, do what they do, and die where they die.
gender twist. Crossing the centuries-old gender lines of his native Rukai tribe in Taiwan, a young male artist, Kaludasan, is reviving the matriarchal art of jute weaving, one of the many Taiwanese cultural traditions lost with the beginning of colonial rule in 1895. Raised by his grandmother and four aunts—all skilled embroiderers—Kaludasan persuaded the women of his family to pass down to him the intricate weaving skills of the Rukai. His sculptural wabelerbeler ("twisting") wall art intertwines colorful ramie fibers "to weave my dreams, little by little…and to connect past and future generations." With the skilled assistance of female weavers in his village, Kaludasan handcrafts only 10 of these time-intensive weavings each month, making the pieces quite rare. A portion of the sale of each tapestry provides much-needed income to these village artisans and a living storyline to their past.
- Handwoven natural fibers over rope and bamboo rod
- Each is unique
- Arrives in a cotton bag with a story card