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Writing with Thread: Traditional Textiles of Southwest Chinese Minorities

MADISON, WI.- Writing with Thread: Traditional Textiles of Southwest Chinese Minorities offers a visual feast of exquisite and rare costumes and jewelry from fifteen ethnic groups and nearly one hundred subgroups living in southwest China. These five hundred splendidly woven and embroidered textiles and costume pieces represent work of the finest quality and historic significance. Three galleries will showcase entire ensembles of adults’ and children’s regalia, baby carriers, quilt covers, and silver ornaments, as well as a loom, weaving tools, and embroidery cases. The exhibition will be on view January 31 to April 12, 2009. An opening reception will be held Friday, January 30, from 7–8:30 p.m.

Southwest China is a region of rich river systems and complex topography, inhabited by thirty-one of the country’s fifty-six ethnic groups. Writing with Thread: Traditional Textiles of Southwest Chinese Minorities showcases the superb, detailed craftsmanship from ethnic groups including the Miao (Hmong), Yi, Dong, Tujia, Shui, Zhuang, Dai, Buyi, Yao, Wa, and Zang. The exhibition explores the cultural messages associated with the production and use of indigenous clothing. In societies without written languages, traditions and customs are passed orally from generation to generation. The textile arts, largely practiced by women, also provide tangible evidence of a group’s history, myths, and legends. The signs and patterns woven or embroidered in their clothing are often replicated in the accompanying silver ornaments made by men. The textiles and silver ornaments complement a group’s oral traditions, recording and transmitting ideas and concepts that preserve the identities of their makers and users, and even reconstruct them for those who have lost touch. The needlework and silverwork of each ethnic group reveal variations in origin myths, heroic combats, communal memories, and wish fulfillment.

Textile scholar Angela Sheng, from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, is principal curator of the exhibition. The objects have been selected from the collection of southwest Chinese textiles owned by Huang Ying-feng, an independent scholar and collector and Director of the Evergrand Museum in Taoyuan, Taiwan. Both will visit the Chazen and give public talks related to the exhibition. Japanese scholar Tomoko Torimaru, who specializes in the history and technology of traditional Chinese Minority textiles, will also come to the Chazen to give a two-part lecture on Miao (Hmong) textile work.

Writing with Thread opened at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Art Gallery, and after it closes at the Chazen Museum of Art it will travel to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and return to Taiwan for an exhibition in Taipei.

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