ISSUE 4 Curatorial Consciousness in the Times of Post-Nationalism
When Kacalisian Culture Meets the Vertical City: Contemporary Art from Greater Sandimen

Image courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.

In the exhibition “When Kacalisian Culture Meets the Vertical City,” several curatorial issues concerning indigeneity are interrogated. How do we see Taiwan as a nascent people and nation in the process of recertifying her own ethnic identification? Shall we follow the agenda set by the state apparatus and the politicians? Or shall we, the cultural sector, pursue an alternative narrative that transcends national boundaries and reconfigures the issue?

First, the island of Taiwan on the world atlas until the last two decades shows that Taiwan is located within the Eurasian Continent, where Chinese civilization plays a dominant role. However, Taiwan is reorienting its world Atlas since the 1980s during the period of democratization. A new world map, representing an alternative narrative in ethnology indicates the distribution of the Austronesian language family. The salient feature of this new map is that the Austronesian peoples have developed their own alternative narratives and civilization which could trace back to five or six thousand years ago. They are parallel to the colossal continent-based mainstream civilization along with their political construct. This alternative, maritime civilization is not based on written scriptures nor is it built on centralized government structures. Rather, it thrives on the knowledge of astronomy and oceanography that brings out a free flowing and interwoven web of cultures nowadays named Austranesian. If we revisit human civilizations in the last five thousand years, a contrast of these two categories becomes salient. One develops historical narratives with written scriptures while the other progresses relying on oral tradition as well as other non-textual means.

Austronesia with hypothetical greatest expansion extent per Blench, Roger (2009). “Remapping the Austronesian expansion”. In Evans, Bethwyn. Discovering History Through Language: Papers in Honour of Malcolm Ross. Pacific Linguistics. ISBN 9780858836051. Source:Blank map of the world (Robinson projection) (162E).

The issue above is relevant to Taiwan’s history. Taiwan was the habitat of Austronesian peoples, who were native to the land in the days long before the arrival of modern colonization. Ethnically, linguistically, and culturally, they belong to a civilization of huge expanse, stretching from North to Taiwan then Hawaii, and New Zealand to the south. To the west, it extends to Madagascar and Easter Island in the east. Archeological findings suggest that the migration of this non-scripture civilization is far from peaceful as they showed its share of wars, natural disasters, massacres and genocides. The concept of “the Austronesian indigenous peoples” needs not to be romanticized and considered a peaceful process.

It is, however, more constructive to explore the various cultural and political challenges faced by global human migration. The languages of the Austronesian indigenous people are as significant as archeological sites in their contribution to our understanding of the symbiosis between humankind and ecology. A further discussion on the recertification of Taiwanese ethnic identity will be informed by the fundamental narratives developed above. It is beyond the so-called de-sinicization or the decoupling of the Chinese language. It sets out to redefine our roles as global beings on this earth in this day and age. 

In the exhibition, one chart was showing the linguistic tree of the diverse Austronesian languages, and there were still some rough patches calling for further researches. The next graph was about the established distribution of the various indigenous tribes in Taiwan. The Greater Sandimen was traditionally inhabited by Paiwan and Rukai peoples, and it is also the site where this exhibition took place. The map demonstrates the distribution of the tribes who have gained recertification of their traditional tribal names following the implementation of government policies on the indigenous people in 1994. In fact, from the historical perspective, the plain indigenous peoples were also pursuing the name restoration to put their traditional names on the map in the last two decades. Therefore, it was a rather distorted picture of the status of the indigenous peoples in Taiwan. The artists featured in this exhibition were of Paiwan and Rukai origins as indicated above. Nobuo, the moderator of this exhibition, has remarked that the show seems so far away and long ago for many of the museum goers. The comment is, however, not entirely true since it takes only about two hours to come to the show by Taiwan’s transportation infrastructure. The distance is more psychological than geographical. 

The major statement underpinning the show is mainly to raise questions about four hundred years of colonization and the challenges faced by the era of post-colonization. The title of the show “When Kacalisian Culture Meets the Vertical City” comes from the literal self-designation of the Paiwans and the Rukais as “the peoples living on the slope of mountains,” being secluded and protected by mountains and rivers from the conflicts resulting from the process of modernization and post-colonization. 

The epithet is similar to “Zomia,” a term conceptualized by James C. Scott in his seminal study The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (2009). He defines the word as a geographical and cultural region where its peoples maintain a competitive as well as collaborative relations with the more powerful regime on the plain to stave off the fate of being dominated. The subtitle of the book is to expound Zomia as an anarchist concept where a weaker political entity finds ways to avoid being dominated by another, dominant power who usually thrived on the plain and wetland since the agricultural revolution. Zomia refers to a region where in the past thousand years has always existed as an anarchist space until late 19th century. However, the author also declares the demise of Zomia after WWII due to the advent of modern infrastructure, the rise of cities, and the introduction of new technology as a tool of control for state apparatus.

The dismantling of Zomia in this post-colonial era has called for new narratives, which the power excises itself through 3-dimensional governmentality ranging from modern urbanization and technological infrastructure from outer space through to under the ocean. Regimes and state apparatus continue to exercise control through 3D technology on top of biometric identifications of each individual. As regards earth and the Kacalisian culture at Greater Sandimen, archeological remains suggest that it has a history of five hundred to one thousand years, and the intriguing question is under what circumstances did this culture have come to an end. A picture, which has showed Da She village and the notch opened up by Japanese canons in 1909 as its troops forced their way into the aboriginal territory, is a good example of how modern technology is used to conquer and colonize a native tribe. 

“Da-She(大社)village’s notch, opened up by Japanese canons in early 1910s as its troops forced their way into the indigenous territory.” The notch can be seen above the village. Photo courtesy of Manray Hsu

“Da-She(大社)village’s notch, opened up by Japanese canons in early 1910s as its troops forced their way into the indigenous territory.” The notch where the modern road leads into the village of Da-She.Photo courtesy of Manray Hsu

In the exhibition, Kulele Ruladen’s drawing showed a machine designed to ascertain the ethnicity, physiology, of a tribesman’s blood purity and identity. “A Bird Reborn,” an installation art, represented a reconstructed big bird, the totem of Ruladen’s tribe.  The reborn bird was propped up by frames and ropes. It was a fable and a sharply critical comment on the history of the aboriginal people’s experience from disintegration to reconstruction. The newly constructed bird was unable to stand on its own strength and required external prosthesis to support it. 

Wassiswagger Zingrur’s pottery objects looked like archeological artifacts. Zingrur wondered how future generations will examine his works in the telescope of time.  The chorology of Zingrur’s life was not represented in a linear chart but in a collage of vortex, reflecting the turmoil and energy of his creative career. Zingrur was very much concerned with the continuity of the spirit of “pulima,” the indigenous term for beauty and craft.

Sakuliu Pavavalung is a forerunner of the aborigines art scene. Pavavalung’s work displayed symbols and totems of political rule from Japanese era to KMT regime.  Pavavalung is an ardent ethnographer, preserver, promoter, and teacher of his native art when resources were scarce. Since 1988, Pavavalung has also established “indigenousness school,” an educational practice, in the tribes to research and reconstruct the indigenous traditions.

Kulele Ruladen, The Big Bird Reborn, mixed media, metal. 2018. Photo courtesy of Manray Hsu

Aluaiy Pulidan is a female knitting and embroidery artist whose work is often the product of collaborative efforts of her fellow Payuan women. The making of the trappings and decorations for weddings and festivals strengthens the female bonding and communal sorority.   

A map of the Tu-niu Ditch, which had existed since the early Qing rule in the 17th century to the Japanese era, shows Taiwan being split into the east and the west halves. The left half was the territory under government jurisdiction while the right half was the homeland of the upland indigenous people. The Tu-niu Ditch, literally means “earth cow” or “native cow,” functions as a racial meridian that separates the ruler from the ruled. When we think of modernity and modernization, we could not help thinking about the space politics and its attendant displacement, separation, segregation, eviction, and elimination. The remnant of the Ditch today, a plot overgrown with grass and weeds, borders on a transit system, which in turn tells that the nation-building process was a part of conspiracy of ethnic segregation, a historical unconsciousness with the repression of the native other. The physical Tu-niu Ditch has disappeared since the late 19th century, but the psychological Apartheid continues to exist till today.

Manray Hsu is an independent curator and critic. His intellectual work focuses on cultural conditions of globalization, the relationship between aesthetics and politics, and geopolitical situations of contemporary art. Manray Hsu has curated exhibitions include Wayward Economy (2005, Taipei); Liverpool Biennial (2006, co-consulted/curated with Gerardo Mosquera); Naked Life (2006, Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art); Taipei Biennial (2000, co-curated with Jerome Sans; 2008 co-curated with Vasif Kortun, Taipei Fine Arts Museum); Forum Biennial of Taiwanese Contemporary Art (2010, TCAC); Autostrada Biennale (2017, Kosovo); The South – An Art of Asking and Listening (2017, Kaohsiung Museum Of Fine Arts). Manray Hsu often engages in collective work on workshop, conference and publication in Europe, America, Asia and Australia.
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