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Art Rumah:Lighting Up Communities with Art

2020-12-29
Chen Chun-fang /photo by Jimmy Lin /tr. by JR Lee
 
Art Rumah, located in the Sangong Community in Chaozhou, Pingtung County, brings joy to all those around them. (photo by Jimmy Lin)
Art Rumah, located in the Sangong Community in Chaozhou, Pingtung County, brings joy to all those around them. (photo by Jimmy Lin)
 
Art Rumah in Pingtung was founded by two individuals who wanted to inject new life into communities. One of the founders is Le Le, a Taipei girl who discovered her love for art through her work. The other is I Wayan Sadera, an artist from Indonesia who has lived in Taiwan for more than a decade, and gets involved in the community by helping to make carnival puppets.
 
Wayan’s story begins in Bali, Indonesia. When he was a young boy, his uncle handed him some carving tools and told him to carve an egg, with no further instructions. “I did my best to make the egg round.” This is how Wayan remembers his very first work of art.

When he got older, Wayan made a living carving tourist souvenirs, but at the time, carving was only a job and a means to live. It wasn’t his dream. Not until he came to Taiwan did his life begin to have a more special connection with art.
 
Born in Bali, Indonesia, Wayan is a natural artist, being versed in sculpting, wickerwork, metal art, painting, mosaics, and more. His capable hands have created a variety of art works all over Taiwan.
Born in Bali, Indonesia, Wayan is a natural artist, being versed in sculpting, wickerwork, metal art, painting, mosaics, and more. His capable hands have created a variety of art works all over Taiwan.

Building dreams at Dream Community

The Dream Community Cultural and Educational Development Foundation, based in the Dream Com­mun­ity in New Taipei City’s Xizhi District, was founded by carnival parade enthusiast Gordon Tsai. With wild blood coursing through his veins and sporting tanga briefs and body paint, Tsai has participated in carnivals large and small around the world. He even learned the art of fire breathing for these parades. When the people at those carnivals marched through the streets, he was deeply impacted by their vitality and strong sense of togetherness. It was in this spirit that he established the Dream Community Foundation in 2000. In 2002 he held the first Dream Parade, to bring the joyful spirit of the carnival to Taiwan.

The foundation has invited artists from all corners of the world to spend time in Taiwan. Wayan was first given this offer in 2009. He recalls that when he first came to Taiwan as an artist-in-residence, it wasn’t a particularly special experience as he was mostly there to make parade props for the foundation. The following year, the foundation again invited Wayan to Taiwan, this time to go to the Dream Community to oversee the production of parade props. Despite his not speaking the local language, art and gestures helped break down some of the language barrier. He noticed everyone doing their best to learn and work together to complete the props. That sense of accomplishment left a deep impression on Wayan, and made him feel had something to contribute by staying in Taiwan.
 
To add a sense of magic to the room, Wayan created this leviathan sculpture from recycled metal.
To add a sense of magic to the room, Wayan created this leviathan sculpture from recycled metal.
 
The sincerity in Wayan’s art moved Le Le, who later asked Wayan to join her in establishing Art Rumah to help inject new life into Taiwanese communities through art.
The sincerity in Wayan’s art moved Le Le, who later asked Wayan to join her in establishing Art Rumah to help inject new life into Taiwanese communities through art.

To the South!

The foundation continued to invite Wayan back to Taiwan, and before he knew it, he had spent more than a decade here.

As well as creating float props, Wayan also designs art installations. An octopus lantern installation made from scrap metal adorns the inside of the Dream Community lobby. When unlit, the structure is a crude behemoth. But when the lamps are turned on, rays of light shine out through the gaps between the metal pieces, adding a sense of magic to the room. The building also has a bathroom decorated with mosaic tiles which Wayan had worked on. A seemingly ordinary community building is filled with life thanks to the works by Wayan and the other artists.

At the Dream Community, Wayan found his dream of giving people joy through art. It was also there that he met a Taipei girl also working at the foundation, named Le Le. Since Le Le spent all day learning from artists, combined with the fact that the foundation had always stressed its mission of inviting other communities to join its carnival parades, her work often took her all over Taiwan. And just like Wayan, Le Le loves these types of inter­personal connections.

The two wanted to go into the Taiwanese country­side to enliven communities through artistic ideals, so they established Art Rumah. With the help of some friends, they moved into an old building in Chaozhou, Pingtung County.
 
Wayan has enjoyed his time going to various communities to instruct residents in creating art installations. Despite not being fluent in Chinese, his friendly smile bridges the distance between them.
Wayan has enjoyed his time going to various communities to instruct residents in creating art installations. Despite not being fluent in Chinese, his friendly smile bridges the distance between them.

Bringing light to the countryside

Located in Chaozhou’s Sangong Community, the old Wu family home had stood unoccupied for half a century. After Art Rumah moved into the residence, Wayan used bamboo provided by local residents and a wooden door from an old house to skillfully create a one-of-a-kind bar. The ceiling was draped with swaths of colorful dyed cloths, giving the inside a warm and cozy feeling.

The residents slowly learned more about the two artists through their continued interactions, and Le Le heard many of the stories of the Sangong Community. Then she invited local residents to put on a play called Sangong Drama. Wayan created masks and puppets with vivid expressions, while Le Le led the rehearsals for the mostly elderly residents. Le Le says that in the beginning when they were assigning roles, everyone was a little demure and unwilling to choose a role. But by the end of the first rehearsal, the residents became quite spirited, and rushed to inquire about any available roles.

Le Le also says that the old house used to be a place of recreation for neighborhood kids, and local residents had been raised on the goat milk from the goat farm there. Although the scene of people gathering and chatting in the evenings while the children played can no longer be seen, glimpses into the past can be conveyed through plays. In this way the youth can get to know local stories and memories that connect across generations.

Learning about local stories and how the residents view the community is the first step in Wayan’s creative process. Wayan says, “These works not only give beauty and art to the village, but most importantly, they get young people to understand the value of creativity and the strong ties art has with the community.”

The “Samba Grandma” statue created by Art Rumah for the Xin’er Community in Pingtung’s Yanpu Township is an example. Residents felt that the com­munity’s samba drum team made the community famous. Wayan drew inspiration from Yanpu’s flower industry to design the Samba Grandma’s costume based on the flowers grown locally. When visitors come to Yanpu, they are entranced by the beaming grandma statue, and residents can take pride in introducing their ­community.
 
These colorful fish props and spectacular parade costumes are all the handiwork of Art Rumah and Zhuangguang Taipei Community residents. (courtesy of Art Rumah)
These colorful fish props and spectacular parade costumes are all the handiwork of Art Rumah and Zhuangguang Taipei Community residents. (courtesy of Art Rumah)
 
The annual Dream Parade brings vitality to communities all over Taiwan. Residents from each community work carefully on the projects to display what makes their hometowns special.
The annual Dream Parade brings vitality to communities all over Taiwan. Residents from each community work carefully on the projects to display what makes their hometowns special.

Art Rumah brings laughter

Art Rumah may be located in Pingtung, but their art services extend to all of Taiwan. Last winter they returned to where Wayan did his first community project, Zhuangguan Taipei Community in Keelung, to ­direct residents in prop production. Having first visited in 2010, Wayan has been involved in the com­munity for a decade now. He knows all the participants by name, and they offer him and Le Le warm greetings and hugs. Cai Qiulin, president of Zhuangguan Taipei’s community development association, points to the pictures on the wall of past events, showing the countless works made with Wayan’s guidance: the seahorse float, shark demon, hawk, and so on. “Wayan’s works are very intricate, with vivid and realistic expressions.” Cai notes the detail in Wayan’s work as he led them last year in the production of a large ­eagle as each feather was applied one by one. When the beauti­ful wings were completed, everyone rushed to try them on and play with them.

Due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak early this year, Art Rumah did not get any cases from ­clients. Sangong Community residents worried the artists would go hungry, so they would frequently bring rice, dishes, and other food to their door. These days they are working in northern Taiwan, and their Sangong neighbors are constantly asking when they will return to Pingtung. It’s clear that the residents have long since come to think of them as one of their own.

Wayan says that the experience in Taiwan that left the deepest impression on him was his first winter here. Having never experienced a winter, he said, “I couldn’t believe how cold it got.” During that time, a friend took him out to have some ginger duck soup. He remembers to this day the warmth he felt in his heart at that moment. It is these moments of social connection that drive Wayan and Le Le to do everything in their power to bring local stories to life through art.
 
Wayan crafted an eye-catching float entirely out of wicker  of a Buddha with expressive features and hands extended.
Wayan crafted an eye-catching float entirely out of wicker  of a Buddha with expressive features and hands extended.
 
Retrieve from Taiwan Panorama
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