Exhibition: “Seeds of Culture” | Lao PDR

Seeds of Culture Exhibition 2

The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC), in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR, an ASEMUS member, has recently opened a new special exhibition entitled “Seeds of Culture: From Living Plants to Handicrafts”, which can be visited until September 2018.

The exhibition has been curated by Dr. Yukino Ochiai, an ethnobotanist and professor at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan, and it explores the importance of nature for culture.

Focusing on the grass plant Job’s tears (Coix), or mak dueay, “Seeds of Culture” draws on Dr. Ochiai’s over 15 years of field research in Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar to show that the wild and domesticated plants of Job’s tears are used as food, medicine, and beads by ethnic groups belonging to different linguistic categories. In particular, the seed beads have been used for costume decoration in beautiful and striking combinations. Over the years, Dr. Ochiai has amassed an unparalleled collection of objects featuring the plant’s seeds.

This special exhibition provides insight into the clothing and changing lifestyles of the region’s ethnic minorities, including the Akha, Chin, Karen, JinSeeds of Culture Exhibitionghpaw and Palaung. On display are a Chin headdress that uses porcupine quills, and magnificent necklaces from 14 different countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. Visitors are treated to a visually stunning display allowing them to explore the meaningful role of the environment in the daily lives of rural ethnic communities. Also, with the addition of discovery corners, an extensive activity centre, and ethnobotanical garden, the museum is perfect for children and adults.

While preparing the exhibition, Dr. Ochiai has explained that “by displaying the whole process from living plants, seeds and items in this exhibit, I hope to share an idea with TAEC visitors; how material culture is based on plant diversity and the environment.”

Reerring to the exhibition, TAEC CoDirector Tara Gujadhur says, “ In the past, ethnic groups gathered different kinds of natural materials from the forests and fields, including cotton, plant dyes, and the seeds of Job’s tears. Nowadays, these natural materials are being replaced by those from markets, such as machine-made textiles, chemical dyes, and synthetic fibres. This is just one indicator of the upheavals these communities are undergoing – resettlement of villages, dependence on a market economy, and erosion of cultural practices and customs. We are looking forward to shedding more light on these issues through this exhibit.”

TAEC is the only museum in Laos dedicated to cultural diversity. The centre is engaged in a broad range of museum and community engagement activities, reflecting its commitment to supporting living ethnic minority communities to preserve and promote their cultural heritage while looking towards the future.

For additional information about “Seeds of Culture”, please visit http://www.taeclaos.org/exhibitions-current.html. A set of pictures from the opening of the exhibition is available here.

Be informed of the Latest Projects, News and Events