‘Show’-ing Tai­wan to the world, one stitch at a time

The China Post - - LOCAL - BY YUAN-MING CHIAO

When Lily Huang told The China Post that “art is life,” look­ing at her elab­o­rately re­fined stitch art pieces, it is hard to be­lieve she started her life as an artist only 10 years ago.

Ar­riv­ing at Lily’s art stu­dio on the pen­t­house level of a Nei­huarea apart­ment adorned with lush plants and a very re­lax­ing ham­mock, it is not hard to see how much im­por­tance and so­lace she places in the act of cre­ation. Be­fore she took up ex­plor­ing the many cul­tural themes of Tai­wan in her art­work, Huang worked in highly com­pet­i­tive for­eign com­pa­nies in the elec­tron­ics field based in Tai­wan, in­clud­ing Siemens.

”It was hard at first for me to ad­just from the high-speed en­vi­ron­ment to some­thing that is sur­rounded by still­ness,” she told us. Not hav­ing a back­ground or the chance to come in di­rect con­tact with art, Lily started first by tak­ing draw­ing lessons at a lo­cal com­mu­nity col­lege where she said tra­di­tional men­tal­i­ties to­ward draw­ing and stitch­ing were the dom­i­nant styles of rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

With some ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and self-ini­tia­tive, she dis­cov­ered an in­no­vate way of us­ing dis­or­dered stitch­ing em­broi­dery on wire mesh­ing.

Show­ing us ex­am­ples of her stitch art, one can ob­serve her pas­sion for Tai­wan’s cur­rent af­fairs. There are framed em­broi­deries of Tai­wan’s abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple as fea­tured in the hit film “Sediq Bale.” She ex­plained that she was inspired first when Tai­wan na­tive Wang Chien-ming be­came a pitcher for the New York Yan­kees. In a tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial, a taxi driver asks Wang about Tai­wan with the star pitcher say­ing: “I’ll show you.” Lily adopted this mis­sion of “show­ing Tai­wan” with her stitch­ing. The English word “show” when pro­nounced in Man­darin can also mean “stitch­ing” ( ) and also “com­fort­ing” in Tai­wanese.

In a piece show­ing the is­land’s iconic Taipei 101 sky­scraper (once the tallest on Earth), moder­nity and tra­di­tion are jux­ta­posed. She uses a flo­ral back­ground com­mon in Hakka cul­ture ( ) serv­ing as foun­da­tion for the tow­er­ing sym­bol of Tai­wan’s eco­nomic might. Lily wist­fully said that the in­ten­tion was to show how the hard work of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions paved the

way for later pros­per­ity.

Stitch­ing as Ac­tion and Be­hav­ior

For Lily, her art­work’s three di­men­sion­al­ity gives it a sense of move­ment with dif­fer­ent an­gles of light re­frac­tion as a viewer walks past the work. But the “ac­tion to art” is also in­her­ent in her ideals of shar­ing the pos­i­tive and vi­brant tones of Tai­wanese and Chi­nese cul­ture. When she posted pic­tures of Jeremy Lin on the bas­ket­ball court dur­ing the height of the “Lin­san­ity” phe­nom­e­non, a lo­cal li­brary re­sponded en­thu­si­as­ti­cally ask­ing if she was will­ing to have it dis­played to en­cour­age young­sters to put ef­fort into their dreams.

Aside from open­ing her art stu­dio to the greater public, Lily has also used her “mo­bile stitch­ing work­shop” to en­gage with so­ci­ety, teach­ing par­ents and chil­dren and se­nior cit­i­zens the meth­ods be­hind her craft. Her work­shops have taken her to the Pres­i­den­tial Of­fice, Taipower and other com­mu­nity cen­ters. In the fast-paced age of smart­phones and in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion through so­cial media, stitch­ing pro­vides an un­likely state of so­lace for young peo­ple she said. Older gen­er­a­tions also find the ac­tiv­ity a nos­tal­gic throw­back.

”Stitch­ing used to play a crit­i­cal role in Chi­nese cul­ture. A lot of grannies added to their dowries by fash­ion­ing pil­lows, blan­kets and other items,” she said.

Her ideal to share was also some­thing that chal­lenged her in the be­gin­ning. While her for­mer oc­cu­pa­tion prized an ef­fi­ciency cou­pled with anonymity, in the be­gin­ning, stitch­ing in the open public in front of to­tal strangers took some get­ting used to. But in the end, the draw of shar­ing her pas­sion through demon­stra­tion al­lowed her to grad­u­ally over­come her shy­ness.

”Art is more than show­ing other peo­ple your per­spec­tive,” she says. “It is also about in­ter­act­ing with your par­tic­i­pants.”

Evolv­ing Styles

While her ear­lier works of scenes from Tai­wan are pre­sented in painstak­ing de­tail, Lily says she is mov­ing to­ward a more ab­stract phase in her art. This Van Gogh­like ex­pres­sion­ism leaves more to in­ter­pre­ta­tion and is also more de­pen­dent on her shift­ing moods, the ma­te­ri­als she hap­pens to have on hand and the pas­sage of time. While on the one hand spon­tane­ity seems to win out, the wire grids also con­trast­ingly dic­tate a cer­tain form. At times she be­gins with no pur­pose. At times she is stitch­ing while read­ing Bud­dhist texts.

As the mod­ern styles to stitch­ing have pro­lif­er­ated around Tai­wan fol­low­ing her bold ex­per­i­men­ta­tions, Lily looks for­ward to projects that will bring her art to the in­ter­na­tional stage. Her works have also been shown in main­land China, Ja­pan and France. Em­body­ing the sprit of the is­land’s break­through ath­letes, its strug­gle to gain ac­cep­tance on the world stage, Lily’s life’s work vi­brantly shows off Tai­wan, one stitch at a time.

For more in­for­ma­tion about Lily’s art­work and con­tact­ing her about her open stu­dio, please check out Magic Lily Stitch Art at: https://www.face­book.com/mag­i­clilystitch Grace Ting-ann Lee also con­trib­uted to this fea­ture.

Cour­tesy of Lily Huang

1. “The Opera Lady War­rior” Huang’s work ex­udes move­ment, as this rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Pek­ing Opera shows. Light re­frac­tion on the stitches makes the im­age “jump out” as the viewer moves from one per­spec­tive to the next. 2. “Lin­san­ity” Huang’s por­trayal of bas­ket­ball star Jeremy Lin, who then played for the New York Knicks, was well re­ceived and served as in­spi­ra­tion for young­sters to fol­low their dreams. 3. “Show­ing Tai­wan — 101 Tai­wan Red” Back­grounded on a vi­brant Hakka-style flo­ral pat­ter, this por­trayal of Tai­wan’s tallest build­ing com­bines el­e­ments both tra­di­tional and mod­ern. For Huang, it sym­bol­izes the hard work of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions who brought about con­tem­po­rary Tai­wan’s pros­per­ity and mod­ern­iza­tion.

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