I was delighted to be asked to represent the UK at the International FolkCrafts expo in Gizhou province China. This was a celebration of global folk culture on a scale that is simply not imaginable in Europe. It was organised by the Chinese Ministry of Culture and The International Organisation of Folk Art IOV a very inspirational organisation. Such a contrast from the UK where our own minister of Culture has refused to even talk to anyone representing UK traditional crafts.
When we arrived at the exhibition venue I was blown away, it is a huge new built venue about the size of the whole of the NEC at Birmingham and 4 huge halls were given over to the folk crafts expo. This is our international crew arriving, there were folk representing many European countries, South and North America, Africa and Asia.
This is my stand, I could not take a lathe so I took some finished bowls, an ipad with video of the workshop and lathe turning and some tools to carve spoons. I managed to find a small birch locally to work with, watch out for these “made in China” spoons on the website soon.
Two things have surprised me more than any others about this trip. The first was the number of vitriolic comments on facebook about the Chinese, warning me that they would steal my designs and mass produce them (these all from folk who had not been to China and presumably were not aware of our own cultures appropriation of Chinese technology over the years) The second thing that I was not prepared for was that if you are over 5 foot 5″ and have blond hair and blue eyes you are a very very unusual creature indeed. On an average day I would have maybe 200 folk ask to have their photo taken with me as if I was some kind of rock star, very bizarre. These girls are wearing traditional dress of the Miao minority people.
China is 91% Han Chinese, the remaining 9% are from 56 distinct minority cultures and Gizhou province is home to 46 of those, all have their own traditional dress and customs which were richly celebrated at the Expo. Here are a few more examples of traditional dress
I loved this girls outfit and wondered how heavy these huge dramatic silver adorned hats were.
In the next hall to us there were lots of working craftspeople from silversmiths to weavers to basketmakers and folk making costume, this lady is doing batik
And I guess this is what it was all about, there were very good visitor numbers with the halls packed for three days but every now and then a local big wig politician would come round with ensuing media scrum. If I remember rightly this one is the governor of Gizhou province visiting the lovely Dutch folk making pewter work on the next stand.
One day perhaps we will have a huge show in London with the best of the UKs traditional crafts and culture celebrated alongside the best from the rest of the world with the culture minister and TV scrum. We are a long way off that just now though. Next posts will show China street life and a visit to a rural Miao village.