Hundred Years of Taiwan Indigo Exhibition in Keelung Cultural Center

Time for Exhibition/April 23rd (Thursday), 2009 to May 27th (Wednesday), 2009
Place for Exhibition/First Display Room in Keelung Cultural Center
Address/No.181, Xin 1st Rd., Zhongzheng District, Keelung City, Taiwan
Phone: (02)2422-4170-8

1. Lecture Time/May 2nd(Saturday) pm2:00-4:00
World Speaker/CHEN Ling-Hsiang
Place/2nd Conference Room
2. DIY Courses
a. Printing, April 25th(Saturday), 2009 pm3:00-4:30 at the Open Square of the Cultural Center
b. Shibori, May 9th (Saturday), 2009 pm2:00-4:00 at the Open Square of the Cultural Center
c. Dyeing by brooks, May 16th(Saturday), 2009 pm2:00-4:00 at the Dachin Farm, Nuaan-Nuaan, Keelung

Host/Keelung City Government
Organizer/Keelung City Cultural Affairs Bureau
Curator/ CHEN Ling-Hsiang
Exhibitor/Taiwan Indigo Dyeing Society
Exhibited Work Presenter/Sozan Indigo Art

Hundred Years of Taiwan Indigo and Keelung

LEE Jui-Tsung[1]

Nuaan-Nuaan (Warmth), this special name for a place has long caught my attention. However, it was not until 1996 that I first set foot on Nuaan-Nuaan. During that time, I was teaching at a university in Hsin-Chu and was working on the ecological investigation and landscape planning of the Si-Shih Reservoir commissioned by our department which can be thought of as the first cultural landscape investigation project in Taiwan. When investigating the plant plots, we found Dachin (Assam indigo), the raw material for making mud indigo, in the forest. Later, in search of Chin Xue (stone tanks) used to produce mud indigo, my assistant and I traveled all over the headstream watersheds but failed to find any remains of it. In 2003, Ms. Ling-Hsiang CHEN and I co-taught a “DaChin Indigo Dyeing” class at the Keelung Community College, I supposed the students from which can still remember that we collected Dachin and produced mud indigo near the Dong-Shih-Kun village during that semester.

At the end of March in 2009, we visited the Chin Xue at the Go-Shan Kiln, following the lead of Ms. Bao-tsaai Huang. As we removed the bushes and weeds around, we waited to see whether this Chin Xue came in the traditional two-round-one-square style or were some adjustments and corrections made according to the terrain? After clearing up the site, we found another round pit. This is a three-round-one-square Chin Xue. Possibly, it started out in the traditional two-round-one-square style, and by adding a round soaking tank next to it, forming the L-shaped layout. All in all, this is a very special set of Chin Xue. This set of Chin Xue, the Dachin communities nearby and the old houses all speak to the association between Dachin planting and Chin Xue operations. The diameter of the soaking tank is 2.7 meters, and due to deposit of dirt, its depth is now only 0.7 meter; the precipitation tank was 3.1-meter long, 2.5-meter wide, 1-meter deep at the present time.

As to the search for dyeing works, we have found that the Shuen-Huh shop on Nuaan-Nuaan Street used to be a custom-house. Its owner earned a lot of money and became the wealthiest person in town. As there was an arc-shaped stone seen in the shop, we think that before the rise of the tea industry, the Shuen-Huh shop could have prospered from shipping and selling Taiwan indigo and running the dyeing works. This dyeing works connecting with Dachin and Chin Xue from Dong-Shih-Kun River and Si-Shih-Kun River, formed the local indigo industry. It is as if we were seeing a scene from a hundred years ago, when the Shuen-Huh Dyeing Works was polishing the dyed fabrics, sailboats parking along the riverbanks, basket after basket of mud indigo being shouldered on board which would be sold in Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai in China at last. The time was perhaps at the middle of the nineteenth century, around 1870.

In the early twentieth century, the Taiwan indigo industry in Juei-Faang District, Keelung Fort and Nuaan-Nuaan Street, Shih-Ding Fort gradually declined. Places that once grew Dachin switched to grow tea one after another. Eventually, they all disappeared. The Taiwan indigo industry not only showed the footprints of the pioneers reaching so deep into the rural mountains, but also clearly demonstrated how the shipping on the Keelung River interlocked the long and complicated transportation routes of old trails in the mountain areas. This definitely is a topic worth thorough exploration.

The locals of Dong-Shih-Kun River area mostly recognize Dachin but rarely have they seen Chin Xue used to produce indigo. If asked about the process of turning Dachin into mud indigo, almost no one knows. Such a condition is, in fact, a very good humanity subject, because it explains how an industry or a skill is roughly perceived, ignored, or even misunderstood, forgot, and vanished. The residents on Nuaan-Nuaan Street have hardly heard of dyeing works, Chin Xue, Dachin, not to mention the process of setting up an indigo vat, dyeing fabric and polishing dyed fabric. As far as the Taiwan indigo industry is concerned, at the industrial technology level, the operating techniques and the key tricks were most easily forgotten with nothing left, because they were held in the hands of a few specific persons. At the agricultural production level, as the planting and supply of raw materials was easy to teach and tell, and the manpower involved and invested was more extensive, the preservation of group memory was easier to achieve. According to my interviews and field investigations, I boldly infer that the disappearance of the Taiwan indigo industry started with the stop of dyed fabric production. Painted fabric had replaced indigo dyeing fabric. Next, the dyeing works were closed, the indigo vats abandoned, dyeing fabric and polishing dyed fabric stopping, and then Chin Xue was disused, mud indigo no longer produced and transported. In the end, Dachin was discarded and even completely forgotten.

We hope, beginning with Keelung, to help every place in Taiwan to discover its own Dachin, Chin Xue and dyeing works, which recorded the vivid past of our ancestors. In recent year, there have also been some local forces at the headstream of Dong-Shih-Kun River beginning their attempts to revive the Taiwan indigo industry, which is a good start. Through constant tracing and investigations, and integrating all the figures, sites, old trails and ferry points, we can eventually reconstruct the Taiwan indigo cultural map that we once had.

[1] Adjunct Associate Professor of the Graduate Institute of Architecture and Historic Preservation, Taipei National University of the Arts; Director-general of the Taiwan Indigo Dyeing Society.

A Decade of Indigo Dyeing Creation in Retrospect

CHEN Ling-Hsiang

About a decade ago, in 1999, the production of natural indigo dye stuff was restored in Taiwan, and in the next year, I decided to be an artist working with this most ancient dye. After viewing countless indigo dyeing works and trying all kinds of expression techniques, I firmly believe that only the technique called Shibori in Japan can best elaborate the elegance of Taiwan indigo. In 2005, I published Shibori— Patterning Technique with Indigo, archiving the Shibori technique that I knew of. Actually, during my ten plus years in indigo dyeing, being introduced to Taiwan indigo in 1997, it was tough most of the time. I had been staggering along from the fumbling early years till couple years before I settled down to my specific way of creation. Luckily, I was invited twice to exhibit in Taichung County Culture Center, which gave me the perfect opportunity. It helped me to stand firm and also gave me greater courage to continue the uncertain journey.

This year, at the invitation of Keelung City Cultural Affairs Bureau in the spring of 2009, the Hundred Years of Taiwan Indigo is the first exhibition of my workshop, marching into its second decade. I and the other six artists, Jhu-Jhen LIN, Li-Gan SYU, Huei-Jhen HUANG, Fu-Mei CHEN, Pei-Ling HUANG and Li-Ren PENG, all value it greatly, hoping to give our best performances. The artworks of these six artists are all special in their own ways. In addition, we specially invited Ms. Chia-Yi CHENG to display her work—Aurora. This is an installation art that opened a new course for indigo dyeing creation.

Natural indigo is the dye with the longest history. Oddly, during these thousands of years, it seems that it has always been known as a fixed color, the dark blue. This color appears in all parts of the world, yet people at different places have varying interpretations of it. In Indonesia, it used to be a color only for the nobles even the king. However, in Japan, it was used to dye the work cloth of ordinary people. These polarized perceptions are due to the special property of indigo dye. Dark blue fabrics need to be dyed and washed repeatedly, which is time and effort consuming. Only the nobles can afford the high cost. However, dark blue also has the advantage of dirt endurance. Adding to it, natural indigo can strengthen the fibers of cotton cloth. Thus, dark blue cotton cloth turns out to be the best material for farm and labor clothing. In some areas such as the desert in middle east or the Yunnan-Kweichow Plateau in China, people not only dye clothes dark blue, but to the extent where it is close to black. In addition, they smear it with gluten and beat it hard to brighten the color. This kind of handling has more to do with their daily needs than with their peculiar sense of beauty. Not only is this kind of flashy cloth totally dust resistant, it is also water resistant. There is no need to clean it, which is a living wisdom of residents in areas with insufficient water supply.

Although indigo disappeared for almost a hundred years in Taiwan, and has just recently been recovered, the dark blue memory has returned immediately. As a result, in a new Taiwan Indigo dyeing epoch, during which the Taiwan indigo is regaining its strength, the creations we have seen are mostly an expression of the past instead. Taiwan indigo, this reborn-infant, carrying too much burden from tradition, is not given the chance to be young. It grows old right after birth. To get to the bottom of this, indigo dye as an equivalent of dark blue is a false perception. The indigo on traditional fabrics is not limited to dark blue. The clothes of ancient nobles in Japan were dyed lighter blue, while the clothes of ordinary people were dark blue on the other hand. The use of various shades of blue to create a sense of space found on medieval European tapestries is enchanting. There are also fair amount of light blue on the Chinese silk tapestries “kesi”. The holiest blue in India can be found on Krishna. It is expressed in all shades, from light blue to dark blue. Indigo is a worldwide dye. There are indigo dyeing works all over the world with different expressions. As long as you keep the knowledge of different fabrics in the world in mind while creating, you will not habitually dye your work dull dark blue.

I cannot deny that I was once trapped in this myth of dark blue. Facing these simple yet extremely contrasting blue and white, I often had difficulties in maintaining my enthusiasm toward creation. It was quite hard and mind-consuming to finally come out from the maze of color. Probing the characteristics of Shibori in detail, I found the border between the white shape and blue color to be an extremely subtle, misty and mysterious area. The light blue gradually disappeared in the white. I wondered, “Is there a way to expand and magnify this border?” Therefore, in my solo exhibition in 2006, I gave up the more accurate sewing method and used a relatively special creation method. I drew a very simple pattern, folded the outline into small plaits and fastened it with strings. With dye penetrating, innumerable radiating blue fine lines formed around the figure, inserting into the surrounding white and gradually diffused, dissolved… These overlapping, thin film-like blue patterns are one of my interpretations toward the unreachable deep space. My four pieces of work displayed in this exhibition are my most recent creations. Hope they will inspire and help the ones who enjoy and intend to participate in the creation of indigo dyeing.

At last I would like to say that my father was from Keelung. While I was born in Ba-Doo, I grew up, educated and worked in Taipei. My father spent his entire life in the mining industry in Keelung and passed away in Keelung Hospital. He was fifty years old that year. It has been forty years since he left me. Could it be him who is guiding me imperceptibly? I would like to dedicate this exhibition to my father and his hometown—Keelung.

Hundred Years of Taiwan Indigo

Authors/CHEN Ling-Hsiang&LEE Jui-Tsung

Publication Date/April 2009

Distribution/Keelung City Cultural Affairs Bureau


Preface by Mayor 02

Preface by Director 04

The Creations of Artists 08

CHEN Ling-Hsiang

Water Knows 08

Reading Water 010

Stillness 012

A Strip of Nature 014

LIN Jhu-Jhen

Sunny Tung Flowers 018

Clouds of Tung Flowers 020

Lost 022

SYU Li-Gan

Music Boy 024

Amoeba Man 026

Lagoon Reef 028

Archipelago 030

HUANG Huei-Jhen

BeyondⅠ 032

BeyondⅡ 034

BeyondⅢ 036

BeyondⅣ 038


Iris Garden 040

Sweety 042

Gaps, So Blue 044

HUANG Pei-Ling

Memory of Records 046

Pentagonal Castle 048

Curving 050


On the Plain, Stars Fall 052

From the River, the Moon Rises 054


Aurora 056 Essays 058

CHEN Ling-Hsiang

A Decade of Indigo Dyeing Creation in Retrospect 060

LEE Jui-Tsung

Hundred Years of Taiwan Indigo and Keelung 074

The Taiwan Indigo among Taiwanese Culture and Arts

This year, our Bureau specially invited The Taiwan Indigo Dyeing Society to host The Hundred Years of Taiwan Indigo. The main goal is to promote the beauty of Taiwan indigo dyeing culture and arts, and through this exhibition, to establish a new milestone for the history of Taiwan indigo development, that is, to increase our international participation while based in Taiwan. At a time when countries worldwide urge to encourage folk culture and arts, using indigo dyeing to represent our folk culture is, in fact, most appropriate considering our local conditions. Because while the plant needed to produce the raw materials for indigo dye stuff grows in our rainy city Keelung, it can also be found in other parts of northern Taiwan. Therefore, we can say that indigo dyeing best represents Taiwanese culture and arts.

It is easy to see the ever changing indigo dyeing from the works displayed in this exhibition. The unique techniques demonstrate the richness of gradation in the color blue and its possibilities, which is a perfect integration of life and art. Meanwhile, these artworks are also beyond the stereotypical impressions of indigo dyeing and present an extraordinary momentum that carries the characteristics of Taiwan.