Nelson curator finds Jewellery and more linking Taiwan and NZ

In November last year, Suter Gallery curator Sarah McClintock visited Taiwan to meet with contemporary jewellers and ceramicists with the goal of arranging an exhibition at the Nelson gallery. Sarah reflects on her time in Taiwan, which took her the length of the island, and describes the connections she found linking Taiwan and New Zealand.
Sarah and Min-Ling looking at a jade sculpture in glass cabinet

Sarah says she fell in love Taiwan and Taiwanese art when she first visited on a Foundation programme for curators in 2017

There are many compelling things that connect Taiwan and Aotearoa. Taiwan is thought to be the starting point of the Pacific diaspora, with strong linguistic and visual connections to New Zealand.

As two small island-nations that punch well above their weight internationally, both countries share an ethos, difficult histories of war and colonialism, but also have interesting aesthetic and cultural differences to explore.

Contemporary jewellery is a fascinating way to understand these similarities and differences. Jewellery is intimate; it touches the skin and connects generations. It also has a common language – metal and stone.

I fell in love with Taiwan and Taiwanese art when I first visited the country as part of the 2017 Asia New Zealand Foundation Curators Programme. So, I was thrilled to receive funding from the Foundation to return to conduct research towards a contemporary jewellery exhibition at the Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū where I am the curator.

Nelson is a craft mecca, it became a hotbed for ceramics in the 1960s and it was also home to jewellers such as Jens Hansen (famous for making ‘the ring’ for Lord of the Rings) and Gavin Hitchings who pushed the boundaries of contemporary jewellery.

Nelson is also a very internationally-focused city, and our audiences are excited by the best of international craft, so I knew there would be an audience eager to experience what Taiwan had to offer.

A man in a studio taping bubble wrap to a plate

Sarah travelled the length of Taiwan, visiting galleries and meeting with contemporary jewelers and ceramicists

During my first visit to Taipei, I had met the remarkable jeweller Min-Ling Hsieh. For my return trip Min-Ling was my guide to jewellery in Taiwan.

I was particularly interested in the importance of jade in Taiwan, and she treated me to a tour of a massive jade market and took me to the historic jewellery collections at the National Palace Museum, and even let me explore her own large jade collection.

I was also interested in meeting with curators and artists who focus on contemporary ceramics. Nelson is a stronghold for ceramics in Aotearoa and I knew that the medium has a similar importance in Taiwan.

The hub for ceramics in Taiwan is Yingge, a district southwest of Taipei. Here I visited the Yingge Ceramics Museum, the National Taiwanese Craft Research Institute and, what excited me most, met with ceramicist Ruth Li who was an artist in residence at the Yingge Ceramics Museum. Ruth guided me through the residency studios and her exhibition. Her intricate and ephemeral clay sculptures are breath-taking.

A constant refrain during my first trip to Taiwan was – are you going to Kaohsiung and Tainan? This time I knew I had to make the trip down to these southern cities. Both cities are also home to some of the county's best jewellers.

In Kaohsiung, I met with Heng Lee, Wen-Miao Yeh and Zita Ying-Hsun Hsu – contemporary jewellers who make use of unconventional materials and methods. The three jewellers have significant bodies of work and reputations and work closely together. 

In Tainan, I was able to meet with Mei-Fang Chiang in her studio (with her partner and two very adorable dogs). Mei-Fang is a contemporary jeweller whose work is inspired by her own person history, family, psychology and the fraught political status of Taiwan.

A man talking about a work to Sarah during a tour of the National Taiwanese Craft Research Institute

Visiting the National Taiwanese Craft Research and Development Institute gave Sarah a taste of the diversity of works being produced by Taiwanese artists

The Suter Art Gallery's plans for exhibitions have, naturally, been impacted by the global pandemic. But to further highlight the connections between our nations, Aotearoa and Taiwan are both dealing with the crisis remarkably well.

Our goal is to have one or more of the artists visit Aotearoa for an exhibition to give talks and workshops around the country, so while we are confident that the exhibition will go ahead, it will likely have to be postponed.

If COVID has reminded us of anything, it is about how we are all connected. Through international exchanges, and the international ‘language’ of art, we can learn more about cultures that are at once so different and yet so familiar. In doing so we broaden our minds, hearts and perspectives.

I want to thank the Asia New Zealand Foundation for providing me with this once in a lifetime opportunity. Being able to immerse myself in the art and craft of Taiwan invigorated me to continue my work in Aotearoa.