By Terri Mestas / 38 Sec.

Reflections on Younwoo Chaa's Reed Woven Portraits

Having lived with the Tukano Indians of the Amazon forest for over half a year, Youn Woo Chaa learned the craft of weaving.    Through direct participation of an essential skill of everyday life and survival of the Baniwa, Chaa has mastered the common patterns and techniques that thread a network of over 400 tribes of the Amazon, despite their disparate languages and cultures.    From harvesting of the Aruma (plant which produces the weaving reed) to the finishing touches with the cipo (a piece of wood to tie a work into place), Chaa has engaged himself in the gamut of the craft of the Baniwa.   By incorporating these acquired skills of the craft into the Western art of the portrait, we revisit the modern portrait through the renewed perspective of the primitive weave.

Chaa has chosen the portrait because it represents a natural evolution for the native weaving work.   The rendering of the human face, unlike religious symbols or abstract geometric shapes, translates artistic mastery across both Western and indigenous cultures purely and clearly.   "There isn't a personal or preconceived cultural sense of 'this is art' that needs to taught or imposed to indigenous cultures of the Amazon.   The Amazon Indios will immediately see and understand that their art can achieve new standards of excellence within their own cultural context," says Chaa.    Without a bridge of clear acceptance of excellence between both our Western an indigenous cultures, indigenous artwork will mot likely remain craftwork in the modern Western world and caught within the prejudices of economic valuations of labor.

In the Western art world, no one has yet accomplished the Reed-Woven Portrait to the size, scale and quality of rendering.   Chaa has invented a process of translating non-patterned graphic plots into the reed weave.

Chaa hopes that the increased acceptance of his work will instill new pride in indigenous cultural values, an element necessary for the proliferation of self-expression and of the Third World.

Written By Won Kim