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Imay Apong expresses Indigenous stories through fibre-woven crafts at TAIWANfest Migration & Arts exhibition

Imay Apong
Imay Apong's works will be on display at the SFU Segal Building on the Labour Day weekend.

Members of the Amis tribe don’t follow the same naming conventions as most other Taiwanese people. In their language, Amis people don’t ask for a surname. Instead, they ask whose child you are.

Imay Apong’s surname is the name of her grandmother—Apong. And she goes by her given name, Imay. The tribes call themselves “Pangcah”, whereas Amis is more of an outsider term.

This is not the only way that the Hualien County resident reflects her heritage. She also free dives for her own seafood, descending up to 15 metres into waters off northeastern Taiwan. Imay scuba dives to even deeper levels—up to 40 metres.

“It’s a way of life,” Imay tells Pancouver in Mandarin through translator and Vancouver artist Ann Fu.

In addition, she is a talented craftsperson. She began traditional Pangcah rattan weaving before switching to working with vegetable-tanned leather from Italy.

Imay

Imay is one of several Indigenous craft artists who collaborate with non-Indigenous designers in a Hualien studio called Kamaro’an. There, they create gorgeous bags, baskets, and other functional objects.

“The common thread is that we take traditional techniques, methods, and patterns and weave them into new products,” Imay says. “They’re on your body—you’re using them, you’re touching them. It’s very tactile, but every item has a different pattern and weaving technique.”

As a result, products represent different aspects of her culture.

Some of Imay’s work showcases traditional weaving techniques that tribespeople use in their daily lives. An example is how a purse handle on a stylish purse resembles the connection method between the rim and netting on a fish net.

“We’re trying to express our stories through that,” she says.

Imay aims to break down stereotypes

Six Taiwanese craftspeople, including Imay, are displaying their designs in the Migration & Arts exhibition. It’s a collaboration between the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute and Vancouver TAIWANfest. In addition to Imay’s Indigenous fibre-weaving, the exhibition features bamboo and bulrush weaving, Vietnamese-Taiwanese quilling art, Indonesian-Taiwanese batik, and flower wrapping (known as chienhua in Taiwan). Migration & Arts continues until September 4 from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the SFU Segal Building (500 Granville Street).

The Pangcah are the most populous of Taiwan’s 16 officially recognized tribes. She says that some communities are matriarchal whereas others are patriarchal. Imay also emphasizes that there is tremendous diversity among Taiwan’s Indigenous peoples.

“They have different customs and different traditions, so it’s hard for the government to make policy that works for everyone,” Imay says.

Gourd hand basket
This gourd handbasket shows how everyday products can be created through Indigenous weaving techniques.

She gives the Taiwanese government credit for trying to learn from the 94 Calls to Action resulting from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Moreover, Imay notes that Indigenous tribes in Taiwan have paid attention to how First Nations in Canada, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia have been asserting their rights.

At the same time, Imay says that there is still “a lot of room for improvement” in how Indigenous people are treated in Taiwan. According to her, people often think about the Pangcah in terms of how they dress or their traditional ceremonies. She insists that it’s a lot more nuanced than that.

Furthermore, she’s creating products that the mainstream doesn’t normally associate with the Pangcah people.

“I’m hoping that people will cast away stereotypes,” Imay states.

Exhibition details

The National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute and Vancouver TAIWANfest present Migration & Arts from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. until September 4 in the SFU Segal Building (500 Granville Street). The six craft artists will give public talks at different times. Imay is scheduled to speak at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday (September 2) and 3:30 p.m. on Monday (September 4) in the SFU Segal Building. In addition, she will offer workshops in the 700 block of Granville Street near Robson Street at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday (September 3), and 1:45 p.m. on Monday.

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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.