Curator: Patrick Flores
Promoter and Organizer: Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) is pleased to announce Sakuliu Pavavaljung as the sole artist, representing Taiwan at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2021. “This is a special time,” says Taipei Fine Arts Museum Director Ping Lin. “The global pandemic has given us cause to deeply reflect, and it forces us to reexamine the relationship between people and other species and objects. Sakuliu is a gifted storyteller. His diverse forms of art tell us lost tales, span contemporary culture, politics and economics, and loosen the pre-established mainstream knowledge structure, making us rethink how to thrive harmoniously together with the environment we depend on.”

Regarding his participation, Sakuliu remarks, “I have always believed that the art I have done for so many years was born out of my connection with the destiny of my people. It is spread out through life, so it’s hard to separate from life at any given moment. Whenever I have the chance to do an exhibition, it always makes my heart race. I’m not sure what to do. I imagine I’m entering a hunting ground I’ve never set foot in before. It tests my mind, courage and skill. How can I win the favor of my prey? This is a big challenge. It fills me with a sense of caution and awe. I will try to share my own life experience in this grand event.”

Sakuliu Pavavaljung (b. 1960) has been highly acclaimed for his practice as a socially engaged artist. Growing up in a family of artisans of the Paiwan people in the village of Tavadran, Pingtung County, his art is not limited to any one form. He excels at painting, sculpture, architecture and installation. In the Paiwan language, his name means “arrow,” and by extension, “stepping forward.” Carrying out the mission entrusted in him by his name, Sakuliu is dedicated to developing new ideas and preserving his heritage. For over 30 years he has used his art to retrace and revitalize his traditional culture, even infusing it with a contemporary spirit. In 2018 he received the National Culture and Arts Award, becoming the first indigenous artist to do so.

When he was young, Sakuliu traveled from village to village repairing their water and electricity systems. He deeply experienced his people’s powerlessness as their traditional culture faced being replaced by outside influences, or even disappearing completely. Therefore, he began to conduct field surveys, systematically collecting and archiving the wisdom of his tribal elders in image files and manuscripts. For example, he documented Paiwan cultural elements such as ceramic patterns, pots, and traditional weddings. By reviving the fading arts of the Paiwan, he is working to reawaken the slumbering collective memory of his people.

At 24 Sakuliu founded a studio to preserve and revive Paiwan arts through teaching. He also trained younger artists to sculpt and make art with different materials, and he learned to build stone slab houses to pass down these cultural symbols and their spirit. Before the age of 30, he established the Tavadran Tribal Classroom, initiating education reform among his people to uplift the younger generation. He founded the ethnic consciousness movements Indigenous Elite Returning, Indigenous Recertification Movement, and Regain Our Names. Decades quickly passed as he rebuilt and developed new skills and educational systems, organized spaces and helped run communities.

Sakuliu has planted his art in everyday life, striving to be both a Pulima (the Paiwan word for craftsman) and a Pu-ʔulu (Paiwan for thinker), not only making the container that holds water, but becoming the water itself, to nourish his land and his culture like a fountain of knowledge. He has recently concentrated on classical Paiwan philosophy, expressing his findings in both text and image. His book Dredretan (Paiwan for ceramic pots, the birthplace of the ancestors of Paiwan), exploring the values and unique features of Paiwan culture through traditional myths and oral history, won the 38th Golden Tripod Award (a national award for excellence in publication).

Taipei Fine Arts Museum and Sakuliu have agreed to invite Patrick Flores, who has long been active in Asian contemporary art and inspired by Austronesian cultural studies, to curate the exhibition. Flores is Professor of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines and a curator at the Vargas Museum in Manila. He served as curator of the Philippine Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale and artistic director of the Singapore Biennale in 2019. He has been a guest scholar at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, California, a visiting fellow at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., a member of the Guggenheim Museum’s Asian Art Council, and an advisor to the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany. With his extensive international connections and experience, Flores is expected to open up a broad space of dialogue for the exhibition, generating a multidimensional cultural exchange with the global art world.

Regarding this collaboration, Professor Flores remarks, “The work of Sakuliu Pavavalijung comes from a distinct place in the vast creative world of Taiwan. As it is rooted and reared in the indigenous lifeworld of the Paiwan people, so is it, in the same breath, in dynamic interaction with the quickly changing social context around it. I am interested in his complex artistic language and his deep engagement with his community in Sandimen in Pingtung County, which is in the south of Taiwan. Coming from the Philippines and Southeast Asia, I am keen to plot out coordinates between these two points of the south in the larger context of Austronesian culture, and reflect on the current discussion on what it means to be either contemporary or local, or both at once.”

Nomination committee

Shi-Yong Gu, Manray Hsu, Chien-Hung Huang, Yi-Hsin Nicole Lai, Ren-Yi Liao, Chi-Ming Lin, Pei-Yi Lu,
Song-Yong Sing, Mali Wu

Pavilion Address:
Palazzo delle Prigioni
Castello 4209, San Marco
30122 Venice

Image Credits:
1. Sakuliu Pavavaljung, Borderlands: A Memory of Light, Sakuliu Solo Exhibition, 1995. © Sakuliu Pavavaljung. Courtesy of the artist.



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