Taiwan’s Lost Art of Paper Offering Revitalized at the Louvre

Taiwan’s Lost Art of Paper Offering Revitalized at the Louvre
Photo Credit: Zhang Xu-zhan

What you need to know

A Taiwanese paper art company is giving visitors at an exhibition in France a chance to explore a dying art form.

Compiled by Bing-sheng Lee and Olivia Yang

Taiwanese paper art is being featured as a major exhibition at this year’s D’Days Festival, a well-known international design event held annually at the Museum of Decorative Arts of the Louvre in France.

The exhibition, titled Taiwan Unfolding, includes papier-maché used in religious rituals and funerals (紙紮藝術), paper handcraft, and other forms of paper art, all designed and created by Taiwanese artists.

Patricio Sarmiento is curator of the exhibition and also founder and artistic designer of “Hand in Hand,” an artist residency collaboration project between European designers and foreign artists.

Sarmiento, who has visited Taiwan on multiple occasions, first found the beauty of Taiwanese paper art while cycling from Taichung to Hualian. He saw people burning exquisite paper sculptures for the dead and was fascinated by the traditional art. Sarmiento grew curious about the local ritual of burning artwork for religious purposes, and later realized that the special craft has been undervalued and widely neglected by the public for a long time.

With a view to promoting the artform and sharing it with Europeans, Sarmiento found a traditional paper art manufacturer online called Hsin Hsin Paper Offering Store, visited the owner and his family in person, and invited them to participate in this year’s D’Days.

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Photo Credit: Zhang Xu-zhan

Hsin Hsin Paper Offering Store’s work on display at D'Days Festival.

Where the traditional art comes from

Traditional Taiwanese papier-maché is a folk art used for religious purposes, and is commonly seen in various traditional festivals or religious ceremonies, especially funerals. It is not unique to Taiwan, and also appears in other East Asian countries. The types of papier-maché vary from location to location, reflecting the distinct local culture of each place and include objects such as lanterns, kites, stages, flower wreathes, as well as traditional lion and dragon dance props.

The art first appeared as early as the Han Dynasty, and by the Tang Dynasty had become prevalent. It already had a history of nearly 300 years before spreading to Taiwan. But the craft has been disappearing amid decreasing demand; today, there are about only 10 traditional papier-maché shops left in Taiwan, with only a few producing high-quality pieces.

The D’Days Festival is the Hsin Hsin Paper Offering Store’s first time exhibiting abroad, and will show four pieces: the head and tail used in the lion and dragon dance, the bamboo structure of the lion and dragon dance prop, and a traditional western-style building.

Passing down the art through multimedia

Though this is Hsin Hsin's first international appearance, it is not the first time the traditional art has received global attention.

Mores Zhan (張徐展) is the younger generation of the 100-year-old Hsin Hsin Paper Offering Store, and other than merely showing the actual pieces, Zhan is integrating it with another art form: animation.

The 28-year-old artist was reluctant to take up the family business at first, but he also didn’t want the traditional art to die out. Zhan found a passion for animation when he was in high school and went on to study visual design in college. With his newfound interest and natural talent, the artist wanted to pass on the traditional art through a more innovative media, and produced his first animation,《Paper Puppet Zhan- Room》- No.1, with paper puppets made at the Zhan family store.

The short animation immediately drew attention from the art industry in Taiwan, and Zhan’s work has since been collected by institutions such as the Taiwan Museum of Arts. His work has also appeared at international art events such as the Asian Art Biennial 2015 and 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art.

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Photo Credit: Zhang Xu-zhan
Hsin Hsin Paper Offering Store’s work on display at D'Days Festival.
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Photo Credit: Zhang Xu-zhan
Hsin Hsin Paper Offering Store’s work on display at D'Days Festival.
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Photo Credit: Zhang Xu-zhan
Hsin Hsin Paper Offering Store’s work on display at D'Days Festival.
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Photo Credit: Zhang Xu-zhan
Hsin Hsin Paper Offering Store’s work on display at D'Days Festival.
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Photo Credit: Zhang Xu-zhan
The Zhang family at D'Days Festival.

Sources:

CNA

CNA

Ministry of Culture

Radio France Internationale

The China Post

D’Days

TNL