I walked into a museum exhibit eight years ago, had the breath knocked out of me, and haven’t been the same since. What I saw was an explosion of textiles and layered garments worn by the minority groups - Yao, Miao, Dong - of mountainous China. Color leapt off coats - from deep dark indigo (which holds all mysteries and sorrows of the world in its cauldrons) to the young bright happiness of magenta pink, the fire of scarlet red. The palette seemed to paint an entire jeweled world where, even without wealth or home, the universe was magical.
I remember the brilliance of symbol - the mandalas appliquéd like this one, below - dreams of the city from which they were forcibly expelled. In their wandering, women began to depict the walls and ramparts, the waters and boundaries they had crossed until a whole stylized maze of the universe bloomed - and they carried their city on their back. With them always, this memory in cloth.
I remember the baby carriers that coddled infants at a mother’s back, intricately embroidered with Mother Butterfly, from whom, they believed, we all descend. How beautiful is that? To be the child of Mother Butterfly, to be carried in her protective wings, marked by her benevolence?
The headdresses - I cannot stand it - so stunning - and jewelry layered lavishly so that they we know they are not shy about looking stupendous at their festivals. And why should they be? I think of the books that women painted, opening into origami-like pockets where one can still find threads stored, or umbilical cords, or pictures of a beloved lost child.
All of this is now at ibu, behind bamboo curtains, awaiting tonight’s swishy unveiling. Do not miss, I am telling you, if you at all can find a winged dragon to carry you here.
But even if you cannot, will you consider, please, what city you carry on your back? Will you wonder at what geography has made it’s mark on you? What rivers of loss you have crossed, what ramparts hold you together? Will you consider the humble butterfly as one from whom blessings may flow?
Let magic take your breath, I beg you, as we enter this world of wow. Let colors wake you. Be knocked out flat by something, for crying out loud, at least once in every day. It’s the least we can do in this wowsie, yaosie, wonder-filled world.
all the best -
Susan Hull Walker