Reimagining the Nanhui Landscape

The "Hidden South" Art Project

2018 / October

Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Scott Williams

People joke that the Nan­hui region has nine suns, for it is bathed in searing sunshine the whole year round. When the Tai­tung County Government inaugurated its “The Hidden South” arts project in May 2018, it invited 20 artists to sojourn in the county’s four southernmost townships and to place this region on the map by creating works that engage in dialogue with its cultural riches. The county hopes the program will raise the area’s profile and draw visitors to this largely undiscovered part of southern Taiwan.


The four townships of Tai­mali, Jin­feng, Da­ren, and Dawu, at the southern end of Tai­tung County, are home to a diverse mix of peoples, including indigenous Pai­wan, Amis, and Ru­kai, as well as smaller numbers of the Min­nan and Hakka ethnicities that dominate Taiwan’s population overall. Visitors traversing this rugged landscape experience rapid and dramatic changes of customs and languages, with each new village almost its own nation. These townships are part of the area that has come to be known as “Nan­hui” because it lies along the route of the South Link Highway (nan­hui ­gonglu)—the portion of Provincial Highway 9 that links the road networks of Eastern and Western Taiwan by crossing the southern end of the Central Mountain Range between the counties of Tai­tung and ­Pingtung.

The artists involved in the Taitung County Govern­ment’s “The Hidden South” project hail from the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, France, and Taiwan itself. Half were chosen by the county via an open selection process, while the other half were invited to participate by the project’s administrator, Mt. Project. Arriving in succession in this textured terrain, each spent more than a month engaging in deep and sustained dialogues with residents before starting work on their individual pieces.

The resultant works are truly local products, as tied to the area as the millet grown in the villages themselves.

Twenty works, 20 bridges to Nanhui

Over the last few years, Taiwan has become home to a large number of commercially oriented arts festivals. These typically deliver a short-term economic boost, or, like Japan’s Echigo­-­Tsumari Art Triennial, aim to promote local economic development and tourism through public art.

Eva Lin, who runs Mt. Project and curated The Hidden South, says that the funding for the project came from the community improvement budget of the South Link Highway widening project, and was intended to support cultural development in the area. But she also notes that the region has rarely hosted large-scale events, much less arts programs, and its rural infrastructure isn’t up to the task of handling hordes of visitors.

Lin therefore chose from the outset to make her primary focus non-commercial. She scattered the works across sparsely populated terrain—foothills, coastland, and rural villages—that is not particularly easy for visitors to get to, aiming to encourage visits to out-of-the-way places. The project’s marketing didn’t promote the works either, instead focusing on more than 50 cultural activities with an educational dimension. In other words, the project set out to build bridges connecting lonely Nan­hui to the outside world.

Cyclists generally view the South Link Highway as a must-see stretch of road on a trip around the island. The project’s planners decided that their endeavor would be a success if it were able to build on this interest by getting more people to pause on their journeys.


Dissolving dualities

More than 90% of Nanhui’s residents are indigenous Paiwan, so it’s only natural that works influenced by the local environment would be infused with an indigenous flavor. The way that Taiwanese Aborigines incorporate art into their lives, their creativity and inspiration in carrying out their daily activities, and their view of themselves as a part of the natural world rather than distinct from it, inspired many of the project’s artworks.


Dream Inspired Millet Wine


Huang Po-chih / planned artwork / Mei-Mei Health Salon, Aljungic Village

Dreams share art’s freewheeling nature, but Taiwan’s indigenous people also view dreams as practical and important guides to waking life. Dawan Katjadrepan, chief of the Kacalpan clan, interprets dreams, so artist Huang Po-chih incorporated photos, text, and neon lighting into Dawan Katjadrepan’s Mei-Mei Health Salon to distance it from the real world and evoke her dreamscapes.


 My Name? I Have a Lot of Names


Wu Sih-chin / mixed-media installation / bank of the Daniao Creek

Many of Nanhui’s indigenous villages relate legends of the “Black Dwarfs,” dark-skinned people of short stature that some anthropologists speculate may have been a Negrito people. While there is no reliable evidence that this people ever existed, the village elders’ vivid descriptions of them have shaped the collective memory of the region’s indigenous peoples. Artist Wu Sih-chin sited his work on the bank of the Daniao Creek near ruins reputed to have belonged to the Negritos. Visitors who have downloaded an app called “My Name? I Have a Lot of Names” can scan a QR code on the artwork to call up an augmented reality overlay that integrates the legendary into the real and brings the Negritos back to life. 


 Vector of the South


Yu Wen-fu / 3D installation / coast at Xianantian

Woven from natural bamboo strips, the work echoes the ocean winds and waves. But human structures cannot contain natural forces. By imitating Nature, this manmade work highlights Nature’s omnipresence, transcends the constraints of concrete seawalls, reaches out across the ocean, and evokes the dialectical tension between the natural and the manmade.


 A complete sensory experience

In addition to the more common silent forms of art like sculpture, installations, graffiti, and photographs, the artists also worked with sound, using recordings, musical performances, and techno-logical tools such as augmented and virtual reality to create complete sensory experiences. Some even developed cultural education classes. Mixing sight, taste, soundscapes and landscapes, they created rich and comprehensive depictions of place.


 Moon Rising on the Sea


Somanana Rain / performance art / Dawu Coast Park

Shuochang artist Somanana Rain shared folk tales about the relationship between the world’s nations and the sea from in front of Chiu Chen-hung’s installation The Balcony on the wide beach at Dawu. Somanana Rain related the stories using an undulating delivery that harkened back to the oral culture of the local villages. Behind him, the moon slowly rose over the dark ocean, giving a sense of the seemingly isolated Nanhui region connecting to the rest of the world via the sea.


 Moving Scenery, Streaming Summer

Lee Shih-yang / performance art / South Link Line, Train 3672

Train 3672, which is soon to be withdrawn from service, passes through Tai­tung’s Nan­hui townships on its journey from Tai­tung City to Fang­liao in Ping­tung, traveling from Tai­mali to Dawu in roughly 40 minutes. The diesel-hauled train is one of the last in Taiwan still to use the 1970s-era blue-and-white railcars, which have no air-conditioning but instead rely on ceiling fans for cooling. The sound of the train’s horn, the smell of the diesel and the whir of the fans make for a highly nostalgic atmosphere. For this work, the train served as a stage for pianist Lee Shih-yang, who adapted an old Paiwan melody into a new piece more suited to modern ears. The work as a whole combined shuochang (folk storytelling with a rhythmic accompaniment) and dance with a trip across the local landscape to create something magical.


 Migratory music gathering


Cultural education event / Tjuabal Village, beneath the Xinxing Bridge

The event, which replicated aspects of traditional life, was held by the Dazhu Creek in secluded Tjuabal Village. It began with a collectively prepared communal lunch, followed in the afternoon by instruction in traditional crafts, including the making of flower garlands, paperweights, and rattan balls. In the evening the participants, more than half of them village residents, gathered on the riverbank to hear musicians of different ethnicities and nationalities take turns performing. The very intimate gathering concentrated the pleasures of days gone by, offering, as Eva Lin puts it, “a return to childhood for everyone there.”


  Giving back to local culture

Taitung’s four Nanhui townships are themselves the focus of the project, so the participating artists had to learn about communities’ needs before crafting their responses. All the works look deeply into local feelings and are a wonderful gift to the region.



Luxury Logico / installation / beside Dawu Recreation Area

In 2016, Typhoon Nepartak devastated many of Taitung’s betel leaf plantations. When the Luxury Logico art collective viewed the results of the disaster, they collected some of the broken steel rebar and concrete from the ruins. By using this debris as the raw material for their own artwork, the collective avoided creating additional waste. The openwork mountain shape of their piece suggests a lack, the manmade mountain scene standing in for real mountain scenes that have been lost to development.


Vuvu & Vuvu


Dexter Fernandez / painting / Dawu Junior High School

Inspired by a shared Austronesian cultural heritage, Eva Lin made a point of inviting Southeast-Asian artists to participate in the project. Filipino artist Dexter Fernandez spent two months in Nan­hui, combining his experiences with the people he met there and the region itself into the graffiti-like painting he created on an exterior wall of the Dawu Junior High School activity center. The work resembles a giant collage. Echoing the Paiwan word vuvu, which means both “grandmother” and “grandchild,” the work has no obvious visual starting or ending point and suggests a profound connectedness between all things.


 Ina’s Garden of Memory

Cudjuy Malijugau / exhibition project / Hidden South service center

Taiwan’s indigenous peoples retain a rich culture closely connected to the natural world. Finding inspiration in the floral wreaths of Taiwan’s Paiwan people, artist Cudjuy Malijugau created an indoor garden at the Hidden South project’s service center using native plants, including herbs often used by Taiwan’s Aboriginal peoples. The wreaths are more than mere adornment to the reserved Paiwan, with the choice of plants and the pattern of the weave offering clues to the wearer’s village and clan. The gift of a wreath also represents the giver’s good wishes for the recipient, and serves as a nonverbal expression of love.

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