Indigenous Artist to Represent Taiwan at Venice
By HG Masters
For the first time Taiwan will showcase an indigenous artist’s works at the Venice Biennale. On April 30, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) announced that Sakuliu Pavavaljung will exhibit in the Taiwan Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale, in 2021, in an exhibition curated by Patrick Flores.
Known for his socially engaged practices and work with artisans and craft forms, Pavavaljung comes from the Paiwan people in the village of Tavadran in Pingtung County in southern Taiwan. His works encompass a large variety of formats, from paintings, sculptures, to built environments and installations. As a caretaker of Paiwan culture, he has launched several initiatives including the Tavadran Tribal Classroom for education reform, and the ethnic consciousness-raising initiatives “Indigenous Elite Returning,” “Indigenous Recertification Movement,” and “Regain Our Names.” His father Pairang Pavavaljung is a highly regarded nose-flute player and carver, and his brother Etan is a painter and printmaker. He became the first indigenous artist to receive Taiwan’s National Culture and Arts Awards in 2018 and a won a national award for his book about Paiwan mythology and oral history.
There are nearly 100,000 members of the Paiwan community, the second largest in Taiwan. About his selection Sakuliu commented: “I have always believed that the art I have done for so many years was born out of my connection with the destiny of my people. It is spread out through life, so it’s hard to separate from life at any given moment.”
Taipei Fine Arts Museum Director Ping Lin described Sakuliu as “a gifted storyteller,” and said that his artworks “tell us lost tales, span contemporary culture, politics and economics, and loosen the pre-established mainstream knowledge structure, making us rethink how to thrive harmoniously together with the environment we depend on.”
The pavilion’s curator, Patrick Flores, is a professor of art studies at the University of the Philippines and a curator at the Vargas Museum in Manila, and previously worked on the Philippines Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale and was most recently the artistic direction of the 2019 Singapore Biennale. He described Pavavalijung’s works as coming from “distinct place in the vast creative world of Taiwan,” one that is “rooted and reared in the indigenous lifeworld of the Paiwan people so is it, in the same breath, in dynamic interaction with the quickly changing social context around it.” Flores called Pavavalijung a “knowledge generator who pursues visual research of persistent mythology, collective strategy, and an encompassing cosmology through drawing, photography, and animation.”
The Taiwan Pavilion is a collateral exhibition at the Venice Biennale and is scheduled to open in May 2021.
HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.
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