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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Political Love-Hate as Exemplified by

Meifu Li Women’s Head Cloths of Hainan, China”

Lee Chinalai,

Chinalai Tribal Antiques, Shoreham, New York


Traditionally, textiles and clothing have played an essential role in tribal cultures.  They imply and confer belonging through individual, family and group identity; signify gender, age and status; and are used in ceremonies and gift-giving.  While these functions hold obvious political importance, further exploration provokes a deeper question: how do the various tribal groups, who are almost unvaryingly minority peoples within their countries, interact with the dominant culture and government; and how might all of this be illustrated through their textiles?   By focusing on one group of textiles from one tribal group, the Meifu sub-tribe of the Li people of Hainan, China, speaker Lee Chinalai formulates a possible response.  She believes that these particular head cloths are a paradigm of the hierarchical relationship between men and women and between the sub-culture and the prevailing culture and government, in this case the Han Chinese.  Her talk addresses the outcome for the Li: is this admiration or resentment of the Han, a desire to emulate or distance themselves, none of this or all; and how was this reflected and represented through the unique Meifu head cloths?  And finally, will it be possible to apply her conclusions to other tribal and minority groups throughout the world?


Lee Chinalai and her husband Vichai have lived and worked in Thailand and Bahrain and traveled in Southeast Asia and China for their business, Chinalai Tribal Antiques, Ltd.  They have curated several textiles exhibits; and in 2005 received a Rockefeller Foundation residency.  Lee attended graduate school in Asian Studies at UC, Berkeley, and has authored and co-authored a number of articles, including three on Li textiles from Hainan, South China.  She has spoken about textiles for the Textile Arts Council at the De Young Museum in San Francisco and at several Textile Society of America symposiums.


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