Unlikely encounters - Tree Tree Tree Person Taiwan Taroko Artist Residency
July - August 2017, Taiwan
Ima hangan su? What is your name ?, we ask our host Ashang when we arrive. She laughs, amazed at the few chunks of Truku language that we have picked up, and promptly gives us a new name in Truku. For the next five weeks, we are called Qurug, Loking and Dumuan.
The Truku are one of more than twenty indigenous tribes that still exist in Taiwan. Since 2004 the Truku are officially recognized by the government, but they still face serious structural repression. In 1986 the Taroko National Park was founded on the land of the Truku; they had to leave their villages in the mountains and have been living at the foot of these mountains next to the entrance of the national park. Their traditional ways of life, hunting and farming, are prohibited on the site of the national park. The Truku have thus lost their livelihood as well as an identity-building cultural practice and now live mostly from badly paid factory jobs or from tourism.
What can we do as artists in this situation? Should there be art at all in this place where there are so many more pressing political problems?
We are overwhelmed, have many questions in mind and no answers. So we limit ourselves to what we can do. Ashang and her sister Yuri are both over sixty and have recently lost their husbands. We share their life and help them with their daily work. Through the work and the talks we get closer, we learn from each other and develop mutual trust and friendship.
Slowly we get a more intimate understanding of the living conditions in the village and in the mountains. The living space of the Truku has been split since the resettlement. In the mountains there are still two of the old villages. People like Yuri who own a house there, travel back and forth between the mountain and the plain - on foot, because a proper road was never built. But neither the old nor the new village is a home and many people seem to live in the up and down, in a constant state of in-between.
More and more, we become part of this environment. Walking up and down our bodies experience the two places and the transition between them. We focus our artistic practice on this experience. The process of living with the local people finally enables us to involve them into our practice, to make work that is with them instead of about them.