this is the second in a series of posts on contemporary indigenous artists and their approach to taiwan’s east coast

last night, i had put a six pack into my bike basket and was about to head out to visit one of my age mates, who lives “in front” of me (that is, closer down near the ocean), when i received a phone call from Rahic Talif, an ‘amis artist from makota’ay who lives at the sugar factory artists’ village. one of his friends had takubanned (yes, that’s a verb for a kind of shipping, like fedex) lotus leaf wrapped rice dumplings. did i want to come over and have some?

i headed over to his workshop and talked a bit about the recent opening of the yoki (pan hsiao-hsueh) exhibit, in which conversation tended to the politically strident rather than paying close attention to the artwork itself. rahic tells me that as an ‘amis artist, he chooses to place such political discourses in ellipses or to wrap them in something else, something light or beautiful. our conversation leads me to think about writing more about the approach of a few ‘amis artists to environmental and land rights issues on the coast. i will talk a bit about rahic’s work in a later post, but now i’d like to look closely at the work of environmental artist Hana Kliw

Hana Kliw’s 2013 “Gift. Blessing” witnesses to the lived presence of ‘amis people along taiwan’s east coast. a collaborative installation at pacifalan, a site sacred to a’tolan ‘amis, the work intervenes in ongoing  disputes over ownership and management of coastal land. with a group of women, hana knitted and wove long strips of multicolored yarn, which she then wrapped around stones, standing tree stumps, and a large post. typhoons toppled the standing stumps and the large post, and exposure to sunlight has changed the colors of the yarn, but these transformations are part of the work’s process of witness

detail from hana kliw 2013. Gift. Blessing. environmental installation. yarn, wood, stone
detail from hana kliw 2013. Gift. Blessing. environmental installation. yarn, wood, stone

in order to understand the piece, it might be useful to give a bit of background. although the east coast is customary commons land for ‘amis communities, the land does not officially belong to indigenous communities, a situation that violates the indigenous basic law, now part of the constitution of the republic of china (taiwan). rather, the land is classed as “national land.” in part, this question of ownership owes to the vagaries of colonialism. under the japanese colonial settlement, ‘amis were considered more highly civilized than upland groups and, as a result, do not have reservation land. coastal land, which was part of the commons, was considered land without title and reverted to government control. with the arrival of the chinese nationalist party in 1945, these lands came under army control as part of taiwan’s coastal defenses; and only with the end of martial law did the land shift from military to civil government control, under the east coast national scenic area management office. this government body has for many years been the vanguard of attempts to lease out much coastal land under build-operate-transfer (BOT) schemes. such a scheme was proposed for pacifalan. the resulting resort and hotel would have expropriated traditional sources of subsistence and sacred sites from the a’tolan ‘amis community, placing them under the control of developers. recently, the east coast management office has shifted to “joint management” strategies, in which management is shared with indigenous communities; but for many members of ‘amis communities, such a strategy will only legitimate continued expropriation of traditional territory and does not revert traditional lands to community control. disputes over land and its management, however, are internal disputes within indigenous communities, with various factions supporting development, accommodating or cooperating with the government, or engaging in protest. for this reason, land disputes have a complex politics that have often riven indigenous communities

hana kliw 2013. Gift. Blessing. environmental installation. yarn, wood, stone
hana kliw 2013. Gift. Blessing. environmental installation. yarn, wood, stone

hana’s environmental installation, “gift.blessing” witnesses. it does not make any explicit statement nor adopt a clear position. it simply witnesses. brightly colored yarn woven around stones, standing stumps, and a post, the work at once catches the eye, but blends in with the vivid green of the mountains and the ocean’s heaving azure. it is a fragile mark of human presence on the land of pacifalan. it is also an act of cooperative labour of a group of women who live in the a’tolan ‘amis community, something akin to the labour exchange groups of women who help each other in fields, oceanside, home, and business

by “blessing,” i suspect that hana means a blessing on the land but also the blessing of the land; as such the piece calls our attention to the gift of the land, or perhaps to personify a bit here, the gifts of Fayi ciDongi, the goddess of the ocean, from which the ‘amis traditionally take much of their subsistence. and like much of ‘amis aesthetics, the installation piece is a colorful wrapping that covers the deeper, substantial core meaning or action: something that both calls attention and disguises. the work thus acts as a witness to the ongoing gift and blessing that comes from a relationship with the land

it also calls us to account, to notice and cherish this gift. although the land might look as if it is undeveloped wasteland to the government, the management office, to ethnic chinese tourists, and even to many locals, ‘amis and ethnic chinese included, the work points us to traces of human engagement with the land. for hundreds if not thousands of years, pacifalan and the surrounding coastal land have come to be through this human engagement, that of the ancestors of the a’tolan ‘amis community, with the coast. we only need the eyes to perceive this engagement in physical traces; the ears to listen to this engagement in song; the body to respond to this engagement in gathering, bathing, and dance

“gift. blessing” witnesses to this ongoing human presence in the land. as such it is an intervention–and i might add a courageous one–that gently demands that we account for and respond to the traces of this engagement in any decisions we might make about how the land should be (or shouldn’t be) developed and managed. it is also a beautiful and gracious work. if you have the chance to visit a’tolan, i hope that you contemplate it and feel the land’s gift and blessing with your own body

hana kliw 2013. Gift. Blessing. seen on approach to pacifalan
hana kliw 2013. Gift. Blessing. seen on approach to pacifalan

hatira aca ko sowal no mako