The works of Labay Eyong, a contemporary Truku artist born in Hongye Village, Hualien, in the 1980s, through a variety of mediums that include soft sculptures, video art, metalworking, and even sites, explore the themes of women, ethnicity, environment, and society. In 2020, she was selected as a finalist for the Taishin Arts Award for her exhibition “The Dungku Asang Art Project,” which was carried out in the area of Ruixin Mine on Hongye Village Mountain—her home. Labay Eyong’s style is bright and brazen, and she holds a firm command over the subjects and themes she wishes to convey, excelling at weaving broader political, social, and ethnic issues with the body experiences of women. She is not just a “female” or an “indigenous” artist, but a contemporary one who is fluent in the language of contemporary art.

Labay Eyong’s artistic direction and explorations can, in part, be viewed as a microcosm of the historical development, displacement, and evolution of the subjective consciousness and ethnic politics in Taiwan in recent years. While moving from “Lin Jiewen” in her school days to “Lin Jiewen/Labay Eyong” now, she has walked the same path as many of her Han peers, moving to the North for her education and studying abroad, and along the way, she has “been” Atayal, Seediq, and finally now, Truku. Her intersectional experiences of being female and indigenous as well as the search for identity have invariably provided a source and layers to her creations. After obtaining her master’s degree in spatial design from Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona in 2008, Labay Eyong returned to Taiwan and initially developed indigenous-style jewelry and ornamental pieces using metal centered on the theme “Bubu’s Closet” (bubu meaning “mother” in Truku)—her grandmother’s closet. Being both a treasure chest and a womb for her creative works, the closet gives her an endless supply of inspiration with which to reflect on her own art and position.

After inheriting two hundred pieces of woven cloth from her grandmother’s closet in 2014, Labay Eyong began to learn to weave, essentially learning to become a Truku “woman.” She then launched a series of large-scale soft sculptures on the theme of weaving, three works of which are on display in the current exhibition. The bright colors of these pieces were inspired by tribe experiences during the period of U.S. aid to Taiwan when her grandmother and other women of the village received wool sweaters, but instead of wearing them, the material was dismantled and rewoven. These recycled, or “tambrigen” (“exchange[d]”), sweaters which were largely repurposed into blankets challenged the material restrictions and color schemes of the original weaving practices, not only reshaping the unidirectional, passive relationship between giver and receiver under complex international politics but also leading to a creative revolution within the tribe. With this context serving as a foundation, the works of Labay Eyong included in this exhibition elicit the tribe experiences and collective memories that resulted from these encounters and shifts. On an individual level, through this form of labor-intensive weaving, she both reconstructs her past family history as well as intertwining her experiences of shaping herself into a woman with each horizontal and vertical thread.

Labay Eyong’s creations demonstrate how U.S. aid of the time altered the quotidian material experiences of ordinary people and how related memories create contemporary art. Within these processes, weaving is seen as an important material symbol of indigenous identity, and it is worth noting that such discourses are not unique to Labay Eyong, but shared by numerous contemporary female indigenous artists throughout Taiwan. The Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinicia, possesses a wide collection of documents from the period of U.S. aid to Taiwan, many of which concern the establishment of imparting the weaving practices and skills of tribes, and within the framework of U.S. aid policy, indigenous weaving was considered a subject that needed to be rescued and reformed. “Policy, Memory and Material Experiences” juxtaposes these official documents with the contemporary art of female indigenous weaving to illustrate the complex relationships between identity politics and material culture through their gaps and divergent discourses, ultimately hoping to actuate even richer possibilities for future research.

Date: November 23, 2022~ December 23, 2022
Opening hours: weekdays from 9:30 to 16:30
Visit information: Archives of Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica

Policy, Memory and Material Experiences: Labay Eyong and U.S. Aid to Taiwan Exhibition