Taiwan - a land of vast natural beauty, of warm-hearted locals, of innovation and immeasurable opportunities for us - those who decided to leave the comforts of their home country and explore the possibilities of education and growth thousands of miles away. The land that has now become the place where we feel accepted, welcomed and loved, its way of life ingrained in our entire being. We dare not forfeit our roots, instead we carefully mold a fusion of cultures, giving birth to new art, music, and ways of expression. We aim to contribute to the exaltation of our mother land as well as to the place we now consider our second home by lauding both through our chosen creativity.
I am particularly excited to write this piece because it encapsulates the talents Soul Expressionz aims to promote. The creative and cultural industries is not limited to just art or music - it extends to explore human creativity whether it be in the form of skills or talents, such as playing an instrument, sculpting, painting, sports, film, performing arts, digital animation, etc. Taiwan has definitely been an enabling environment for both national and international talents to hone their skills and harness their creativity. From a personal perspective, it has allowed me to sharpen my writing skills and reach otherwise unattainable international audiences.
A vibrant display of artworks is currently happening in Taipei City’s Shintomicho Cultural Market. Art curator Alejandra Sanchez, has brought together the sophisticated creations of 10 artists, originally from Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. The 8-day exhibition started with an opening ceremony on the 29th of March and special invited guests, special guest performers, the artists and the press.
The successful execution of this exhibition, Alejandra explains during an online interview, could not have been possible without the sponsorship of the Embassy of Guatemala and the Central American Trade Organization (CATO). The Embassy of Guatemala aims to transform their office into an art gallery in the future and show case the works of their national artists and cultural ambassadors. Supporting Alejandra in this particular endeavor is also forging a closer bond not just between Guatemala and Taiwan but also among those of the other participating Latin American countries. It is worthy to note that with time, more governmental entities are noticing the vast advantages that creative industries can bring forth to enhance foreign policy and soft power.
The most amazing feature of the whole exhibition is how these artists, who may or may not have met before, are creating cross-cultural dialogue by showcasing their personal talents, not just for the exposure that it allows as an individual, but essentially to be a cultural ambassador for their respective countries.
I had the privilege of interviewing the art curator and a few of the artists that are exhibiting their creations at Shintomicho Cultural Market:
Art Exhibition Curator: Alejandra Sanchez
I met Alejandra Sanchez, in a one-on-one teleconference and I was instantly impressed and intrigued by her persona. During our 40-minute interview, she spoke confidently about her curatorial background, how she selected the artists for this particular art exhibition with the truly fitting title "Our Second Home" and expresses how it will help in her life as a student and beyond.
In 2019, Alejandra came to Taiwan on a MOFA scholarship to pursue a Master of Arts degree in Critical and Curational Studies at National Taipei University of Education. As part of her graduation requirement, she has embarked on a qualitative curatorial study in which she "advocates for the promotion of contemporary art produced by Latin American artists based in Taiwan". For this study, she handpicked artists from 4 different Latin American countries and art backgrounds - painters, sculptors, performance artists, videographers - artists who have used Taiwan as a source of inspiration for their work. She had met some of the artists during her language studies at Shida, others she met through engaging on extra-curricular activities such as Dragon Boat competitions or found them on directly on social media platforms such as Instagram.
Her very first curatorial learning experience happened last year, during which Alejandra curated an exhibition of Taiwanese performance artists alongside four other curators from her class. For the current exhibition, she researched, requested sponsorship, carefully selected the foreign artists, organized and is managing the space and event...all on her own! I am taken aback! She seems to be enjoying the whole experience as if it requires no effort at all. Even when sharing about how she felt during the opening ceremonies, which had 40 VIP guests in attendance, she proudly says " I was very nervous but at the same time, very honored to, you know, have this opportunity open itself and being able to actually present this project to like, such important people in the country."
Present at the opening ceremonies were Guatemalan Ambassador, Mr. Willy Alberto Gómez Tirado, Honduran Ambassador, Eny Yamileth Bautista Guevara, Head of Mexican Trade Services, Martín Torres, Secretary General of ICDF, Timothy Hsiang, Deputy General Director of MOFA, Ms.Chen Shu-Jung, and Executive Director of CATO, Mr. Augusto Liao, among other important guests. When asked how she feels about having all these institutions collaborating with her for this event, I could tell she was very grateful to them when she said, "It's very moving [puts her hand on her heart] to have - to feel that support from such important institutions."
Alejandra plans to continue curating exhibitions in the future and hopes this event opens more doors for her not only in Taiwan and her home country, Guatemala: Her true aspiration would be to become "a bridge, like a communicator between Taiwan and Guatemala in terms of the art industry. Maybe be able to promote more Guatemalan artists in Taiwan, just like what I did right now with special guest artist being displayed in my exhibition - Mod Cardenas."
There was that special smile and the sparkles in her eyes. - You know a true desire when you see one.
Illustrator and Graphic Designer - Mar Zavala
Mexican Illustrator and Graphic Designer Mar Zavala first came to Taiwan to study Mandarin Chinese and to learn about Taiwanese culture. As many of us do, she fell in love with the country and its people and is planning to continue her studies by pursuing a Master degree in Interaction Design. She sketches places she has visited which have evoked a certain feeling. She also sketches portraits of people she has met during the course of her stay in Taiwan. During this process, she holds a conversation with the person and gets to know them and understand them.
Even though the interview was carried online, I had the privilege of also meeting her at Shintomicho Cultural Market when she went to deliver some postcards of the sketch works being displayed. Mar is very attentive in ensuring that viewers always have postcards available and comes to check daily if the two interactive mechanisms are functioning as they should.
On a background that depicts the map of Taipei city, carefully laid out are sketches of places and people which highlight the black ink on bright yellow paper and two interactive mechanisms.
If you have ever been to Xinyi District in Taipei, you may recognize the modern building sketch which is located on the lower right. Close to that sketch, a scenery from the Elephant Mountain viewpoint with Taiwan's most famous landmark, Taipei 101.
Another sketch tries to capture the true essence of Kishu An Forest Literature, a Japanese style art pavilion located in Taipei City. The time Mar chose to create the below piece remains vivid in her memory, particularly noting how much reverence visitors had for the art center. They explored in silence and took their time to appreciate the structure and its surroundings.
The two interactive mechanisms that Mar created for this exhibition are two portrait sketches which consist of 37 pieces of drawings each. As we spin the lever on the right side, we can appreciate how each portrait's facial emotions change as the person looks at her surroundings. On the left, a self portrait and on the right, another person. If the mechanisms are spun at the same time, you can imagine how these two persons are probably looking at each other and as Mar says "they are strangers that may or may not meet and could potentially have a connection that could create a future together."
Her advice to creators is, "If you are an artist that have been creating but haven't shown anyone because you are afraid, you have to take that next step and expose your skill because at that time, you are showing something very intimate which requires a lot of courage...everyone will have an opinion regarding what you do. Why? Because, they can. So don't focus on what others say, share your skills and good things will come out of it."
Painted Portraits - Alejandra LaGuardia
Ever since she was young, Alejandra wanted to study art, but it was not possible to start in Guatemala as there are no schools that offer art as a major, so she studied Graphic Design and Communication Sciences at the Universidad de Galileo. It was until she came on a MOFA scholarship to study at National Taiwan University of Arts, that she learned how to create the kind of art that is currently on display at the exhibition.
For Alejandra to be able to showcase them on paper, she uses a roller brush to add red paint unto the carving. She then places paper on paper and a piece of cloth and uses a pressing machine so that the paint becomes a stamp as displayed. Each piece takes approximately one week to be created.
The three displayed pieces called "Connections", reflect depictions of Guatemala and Taiwan. The first, the famous Guatemalan Lake, "Atitlan" is fused with Kaohsiung's Lotus Lake's single Pagoda. From a foreigner's perspective, the setting looks like some existing scenery Alejandra saw during one of her adventures in Taiwan. Surely, the instant Guatemalans see the art, they would identify the famous landmark surrounding the pagoda and would probably think, "Is that a new addition?"
Her second piece depicts Taiwan's Pingxi Area, where many people go to write their wishes on lanterns which are then let up into the evening sky. But wait, that is not at train on the tracks! Do you recognize the familiar mode of transportation? A chicken bus! We Latin Americans have our unique versions of chicken buses. Splendid!
The third piece, she describes, brings together: 1. One of the first places we foreigners visit when we come to Taiwan and stay in Taipei City - Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, and 2. another Guatemalan common mode of public transportation, the Tuk Tuk. Although Tuk Tuks are not used in Taiwan, they are used in other Asian countries such as Thailand and The Philippines. Alejandra shares that when she was younger, her family used to have a Tuk Tuk for a few years. I'm sure it brings her beautiful memories just as the ones she is now creating in Taiwan.
Alejandra explains in Spanish how "her art goes to show that sometimes we feel as if we are different, but in reality, we are not. We are the same and we can fit in any place, you know?"
Chinese and Mayan Typography - Jerusha Nicole Sanchez
Jerusha arrives with her friends at the Art Gallery. She then spots me talking to Mar Zavala and realizes who I am. We then walk towards both her art pieces which I had already studied and hoped there would be a positive answer to the main question in my mind.
Her artistic journey started in Guatemala during the time she attended an American school and had her first art exhibition. Also having been granted a MOFA scholarship, Jerusha has been undergoing her art studies at National Taiwan University of Arts, majoring in Visual Communication. Now a senior, she has had different exhibitions at her university and is now excited that she can showcase the product of many late nights at "Our Second Home" art exhibition.
Naturally, anyone not familiar with Mayan Hieroglyphics, would be fooled to believe that the pictures behind the four white Chinese characters are actual Mayan artifacts . Ok, maybe just me.
Jerusha explains that her studies in Taiwan have enabled her to learn how to shape and create the non-existent Chinese serif fonts and make them resemble serifs as would be seen in the "colonial times". She aims to portray the similarities between Mayan hieroglyphics and Chinese characters, their phonetic sounds and how they came to be. She uses "Nawales", the 20 energies on the Mayan Calendar and the 13 tones that symbolize Mayan numbers, as her inspiration. "I thought, these two concepts are so similar, why can't we just take the visual idea, the styling, to be able to put them together and create something special. Especially because, I think Chinese characters - especially in Chinese Typography - have not been really explored much."
In the second art piece, Jerusha focuses on the brush stroke order the Chinese character "Yong" or "forever" - 永 - and shares a very famous poem that, as she explains, most Taiwanese would recognize because it is taught in Elementary School.
She explains how she interprets the poem and what it symbolizes for her. The last two lines, in particular, "To see a thousand views, you have to go to a higher floor" - "and my higher floor was moving from Guatemala all the way here and learning something that I never thought I could have learned."
And to answer my question, no the font is not ready for sale - yet.
Aerialist - Taylor Bood - Usher
Taylor represents Belize at the art exhibition by showcasing her aerial skills in a duet with Belizean Aerialist, Karina Bol.
She grew up in Ladyville but spent some of her free time as a child in Bermudan Landing in the Belize District, which is where her mom is originally from. Currently, Taylor is pursuing an MBA in International Human Resource Development at National Taiwan Normal University. At the same time, she is teaching English to be able to fund her studies and her stay. At first, her plan had been to take a gap year off school to come to Taiwan and work/travel. "There is something about Taiwan that really captivated me (as it does with a lot of Belizeans here) it might be the friendliness of the people or the quality of life. Whatever it was, I'm very grateful. I've lived in a couple of different countries prior to moving here, and Taiwan is the first country to give me that true feeling of "home away from home."
When asked how she developed a love for aerial art, she explained that after just one month of coming to Taiwan, her coworker invited her to attend an Aerial Yoga class. "As someone who is afraid of heights or just being off the ground, you can imagine how chaotic my first class was." With the encouragement of her teacher, she continued learning aerial yoga and then transitioned into aerial dance. Thereafter, she continued combining the yoga poses and spinning to create beautiful original choreographies such as the one featured at the exhibition.
Taylor is one of the very first Belizeans to learn Aerial art in Taiwan and be featured in a transcultural exhibition. Her advice to anyone who wants to pursue art is: "Don't be discouraged if you suck at it in the beginning. A lot of times, the perfectionist in us tells us that if we are not amazing at something, or we don't meet our own standards, we shouldn't pursue it. The opposite is true, and seeing yourself transform, sharpen your skills amd hone your craft after a lot of hard work only amplifies your datisfaction and pride."
Aerialist - Karina Bol
I met Karina when she first came to Taiwan, quite a number of years ago. She was carrying out her MBA in International Business and Trade and I, a Master of Art in International Affairs at Ming Chuan University. Two weeks ago, we collaborated in providing a free webinar to Belizean entrepreneurs. The last article published on Soul Expressionz, is about her Belizean business venture, Giggedbz.
I had seen Karina share the above photo on her personal Instagram account and the week leading to our webinar I knew she was busy with something but then again, we were both busy so I didn't delve much into it. After I found out it was for this exhibition, of course I felt proud that she could showcase her years of aerial dancing and choreography in such a setting. What's more, she got to dance alongside her best friend, Taylor. An aerial match made in heaven?
Karina shares with us the journey that has lead to the present:
"Aerial is an art I have spent the past three years learning. It is a passion that started from finding a creative way to be fit, to then being able to express myself artistically. This exhibition allows my best friend and I the opportunity to showcase the love we have for this art, but also put Belize on the map by expressing our talent. It shows how our deep root and love for dancing which came out of the ecstatic Belizean culture, can adapt and be translated as we move through different parts of the world. It is also meaningful as it is one of the ways we have been able to adapt to and enjoy the life that we have had in Taiwan. It closely ties our love and appreciation for both countries."
Karina usually shares her aerial original choreography on her Instagram account, gradually building her artistic portfolio. In fact, that is how art curator Alejandra Sanchez discovered her. Aerial art has now become an integral part of both Karina's and Taylor's life and they have Taiwan, their second home, to thank for it.
And with that, a sneak peek of Taylor's and Karina's 2-minute long performance. Enjoy!
Be sure to head over to the Art Exhibition and support your favorite Latin American artists in Taiwan!
Exhibition of Latin American Artists in Taiwan
03.29 - 04.06 | 2022
新富町文化市場 Shintomicho Cultural Market
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mays Alejandra is a Belizean writer who has been living in Taiwan for almost 10 years. With a Master of Art degree in International Affairs and a focus on Cultural Diplomacy, writing about her experiences and promoting creators is her way of "giving back to Taiwan and Belize." Read more