Huang Zi-huan: working diligently to pass down Hakka culture through art

Chinese name: 黃紫環
Birthplace: Pingtung County (Southern Taiwan)

Throughout history, a great deal of artworks have been created in the combination of fine lines of drawing and rustic strokes of woodblock chiseling, such as illustrations, paintings and painting books, research on important art and cultural objects, religious application, Chinese New Year paintings, and game cards. 

In the realm of Taiwanese Hakka culture, Huang Zi-huan is an artist working silently with determination to try every material available for passing on Hakka culture. The Zi Xiu Workshop (紫岫工坊) opened in recent years is the accumulation  of her works over the years. The workshop features products of Hakka culture, seeking to reinterpret Hakka culture through blue-dyed blouses, Hakka clothing, traditional Hakka food, bags, daily accessories and other art objects. The artist herself is talented in many fields but specializes in oil painting, watercolor painting, sculpture and woodblock printing, which she had studied for the longest time.   

“Among the minority groups in Taiwan, every indigenous tribe has its own totem and doorframe carvings. They have such characteristic visual symbols while the Hakka do not establish their own identity and Hakka culture is gradually disappearing.” This is exactly what Huang Zi-huan is trying to remedy. She has worked hard to bring Hakka culture into the community, and teaches at the community university as well as Futien Elementary School. She hopes Hakka culture can take root and flourish again through spreading seeds of Hakka culture.

Among all her art skills, woodblock printing, which she has practiced for more than 13 years, stands out the most. Born in Linluo Township of Pingtung County, there were already six boys and one girl in her biological family and she was therefore adopted by the Huang family, which resulted in a miserable teenage years, driving her to left home to work at the age of sixteen. After getting married at 25, she opened a shop in Neipu to carve seals and paint portraits for people. When she was 29, she started learning block printing, which became a turning point that changed her life completely.

By chance, she got to learn printmaking from prominent printmaker Chen kuo-chan (陳國展). She recalled having no inspiration at all when she made her first print. She could not sleep for three days but her debut work, “Future,” won the third place in Pingtung County Art Exhibition. Later on she was mentored by wood carver Chen Chi-mao (陳其茂). Her creative career went on and she had won prizes at the Taipei Art Exhibition, Kaohsiung Art Exhibition, Taiwan Provincial Art Exhibition and the ROC Block Print Association Exhibition. She also held three joint exhibitions and three solo exhibitions in China and Japan.

Colors other than black and white are seldom seen in her works. She said: “I like the contrast between black and white, and the sharpness of each and every line and stroke.” Her creations can be roughly divided into two categories,  the first of which is images of houses in Hakka villages and cultural landscapes like the Jingzi Pavilion and the Hakka Cultural Museum. The second of which is the projection of her own thoughts such as “Grandma’s Urn” – a traditional vessel for storing rice in childhood symbolizes where there is food, there is hope. Such works often embody deep meanings and offer infinite room for imagination and enlightenment.

Being worried about the Hakka culture gap between generations and the growing distance between contemporary Hakka and the traditional one, Huang tries hard to connect the past and the present and had planned  to design symbolic totems for every Hakka village in Liudui area in Kaohsiung and Pingtung to represent the village culture and agricultural products. For example, the pig trotter could represent Wanluan while the wax apple could represent the place where wax apples are grown.

In recent years, she has been devoted to promoting the unique Hakka blue-dyed blouses. She designs the style and sends them to tailors for production. She also makes daily accessories like bags. The handmade stitches are as fine as machine-made products. Huang also revitalize the Hakka blue dye culture through bringing blue blouses into daily life, and the Zi Xiu Workshop is her start point to infuse new energy to Hakka culture.