Indigenous Art of Taiwan

Eleven rich veins in Taiwan’s web of cultures are those of its 11 indigenous groups: the Amis, Atayal, Bunun, Kavalan, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Saisiyat, Thao, Tsou, and Yami. Arts such as woodcarving, weaving ,wickerwork, and pottery, as well as ceremonial dance and song, have always played central roles in indigenous life, and have strong traditions of individuality, innovation, and creativity.
The Paiwan and Rukai peoples of southern Taiwan, for example, are especially known for their woodcarvings of stylized human figures, geometric patterns, and images of the hundred-pacer snake. The Yami of Orchid Island are best known for their sturdy, hand-built boats made without nails or glue; and Atayal women use simple back-strap looms to create rectilinear patterns of squares diamonds and triangles.
Dance and music are among the richest legacies of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. Group dances that are performed at a wide variety of ceremonies and rituals consist mostly of simple but harmonious walking and foot-stomping movements. They are usually performed in unison and accompanied by melodic choruses. Indigenous musical instruments include drums, simple stringed instruments, woodwind instruments (such as flutes), and other percussion instruments (rattles, wooden mortars and pestles).
Taiwan Folk Arts
Traditional handicrafts such as paper cutting, knotting, and dough figuring sculpture continue to be fairly common in Taiwan. Other apprentice-oriented folk arts are struggling to survive. Traditional performing arts such as puppetry, dragon and lion dancing, folk opera and dance, and traditional acrobatic have a tough time competing with TV, movies and other modern-day activities.
Many folk arts have benefited from a revival of interest in recent years, however. The Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) support numerous folk art festivals covering everything from paper umbrellas and lanterns, to Hakka mountain songs, drum dances, and comedy skits. The CCA also sponsors the Folk Art Heritage Awards and the prestigious title of Folk Arts Master. In 2002, the National Center for Traditional Arts was established in Yilan for the promotion and research of traditional arts.
Woodcarving and other temple crafts have also advanced in recent years; one significant project is the extensive renovation of the 200-year-old Zushih Temple in Sansia by some of Taiwan’s craftspeople over the past four decades.
Woodblock printing is also experiencing a renewal of interest. Used especially for New Year hangings, woodcut prints are of a simply, rural style and commonly depict folk deities. Other traditional and modern printmaking techniques include lithography, silk-screening and etching.
Three styles of puppetry are common in Taiwan: glove puppets, shadow puppets, and marionettes. Glove puppets with finely embroidered costumes, exquisite headdresses, and delicately carved faces perform on elaborate stages covered with intricate gold carvings. Shadow puppets cut out of leather and painted in bright colors are larger; lit from behind and with joint allowing movement, the puppets throw a colorful and lively performance onto the white screen viewed by audiences. Marionette puppets are usually about two feet high and, manipulated by up to 14 strings, are usually presented in front of simple backdrops. Many of the stories used in puppet shows are adapted from classical literature or ancient legends.
Painting – A new generation of Taiwan painters appeared during the period of Japanese rule (1895-1945) whose subject matter, like that of the Impressionists, centered on daily life or local landscapes. Through their Nativist Art, characterized by a conscious desire to depict images evoking Taiwan’s unique identity, these oil painter had an important influence on Taiwan’s artistic development.
As Nativist Art as reaching its peak, relocation of the ROC government to Taipei in 1949 brought a sudden influx of traditional ink painters. By the late 195-s and early 1960s, however, many young artists, disillusioned with traditional styles but unable to connect with Japanese-trained Impressionism, were drawn to contemporary Western trends, Abstract Art in particular. The late 1960s and the 1970s saw a new nativist movement emerge, as artists once again painted local scenery and architecture, and explored folk art traditions.
Recent trends since the 1980s and 1990s have seen artists employ a much broader variety of styles and subject matters, and use their Taiwan consciousness as an important starting point for the expression of ideas relating to identity and filled with symbolic or metaphorical images.
Ceramics – Taiwan contemporary ceramic art emerged in the late 1940s in Miaoli City and Yingge Township in Taipei County. In the early 1950s, it broke out of ceramic factories into artistic workshops, experimenting with shapes and glazes, while remaining largely within traditional functional frameworks.
Exhibitions at the National Museum of History in the late 1960s and at private galleries in the 1970s led to creative ceramists gaining wide recognition, with a major boost coming with the opening of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in 1983. The Chinese Ceramics Association was formed in 1992., and held its first festival the following year. The Yingge Ceramic Museum, Taiwan’s first, opened in 2000 to present the latest developments in Taiwan’s ceramics and to promote cultural exchanges with overseas artists.

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