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Chienhua artist Hueimei Chen embodies traditions and culture of diverse Taiwanese communities

Chienhua
Hueimei Chen's chienhua designs are worn by members of bridal parties.

Hueimei Chen makes use of her monumental skills as a flower-wrapping artist to create happy memories for grooms and brides. Moreover, her elaborate designs reflect traditions and the culture of different communities in her home country of Taiwan, reflecting the island’s diversity.

With the help of Mandarin-language translator Ann Fu, Chen recently spoke to Pancouver about her art form. Known as chienhua, it combines paper-cutting, winding, and embroidery.

During  the interview, Chen pointed to various pieces reflecting chienhua tehniques practised by Hakka and Minnan-speaking people, as well as those from the islands known as Kinmen.

“These are all traditionally used in bridal ceremonies,” Chen said. “The butterfly symbolizes fertility.”

Not every piece, however, features butterflies. She noted that a grandmother’s arrangement would include a turtle to reflect longevity. Meanwhile, members of the groom’s party might sport a handcrafted cap within their floral arrangement. This represents the male in a farming culture.

Chen’s works have been exhibited twice in Vancouver, most recently at the Migration & Arts exhibition at Vancouver TAIWANfest from September 2 to 4. She told Pancouver that her work will have been displayed been in every city across Taiwan after an upcoming show in Taitung.

Hueimei Chen
Hueimei Chen has exhibited her artistic flower arrangements across Taiwan.

Chienhua conveys emotions of auspicious events

Chen lives near the northeastern tip of Taiwan in Wujie Township in Yilan County. She originally worked as a leather craftsperson. However, she switched to flower-wrapping after meeting her mentor, Grandma Ai Yu Hsieh, a master of the Minnan technique.

According to Chen, Minnan-speaking people who moved to Taiwan often settled closer to the ocean, mirroring the terrain where they had previously lived in China. Hakka people, on the other hand, tended to move to Taiwan’s more mountainous terrain for the same reason.

Furthermore, Chen said, there are northern and southern styles of Minnan chienhua.

The designs themselves can be very complicated. For instance, some arrangements reveal metal in certain areas. In other places, she covers flecks of gold to symbolize yin and yang. In some of her works, she includes a cocoon, again to symbolize fertility.

Chen emphasizes that these are not merely works of art. She creates them to convey emotion for the most auspicious occasions of a person’s life.

In 2020, Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture honoured Chen for her work in preserving the ancient art of chienhua.

The National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute and Vancouver TAIWANfest presented Migration & Arts at the SFU Segal Building in Vancouver from September 2 to 4. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.