Kaohsiung university is cultivating new generation of indigenous artists

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National Kaohsiung Normal University in southern Taiwan offers a tailored program for indigenous students interested in pursuing an art career

National Kaohsiung Normal University in southern Taiwan offers a tailored program for indigenous students interested in pursuing an art career (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — For 19-year-old Saljenljeng Palilaw, a member of the indigenous Paiwan tribe, her dream is to open a hometown children’s art studio in southeastern Taiwan’s Taitung County. Currently studying aboriginal art production at National Kaohsiung Normal University in the southern city of Kaohsiung, Palilaw considers herself fortunate to receive instruction in advanced creative techniques and greater exposure to indigenous cultures.

“Through the variety of courses on offer, I’m turning my dream into reality,” Palilaw said. “And along the way, I’m discovering more about my ethnic background and becoming increasingly appreciative of its beauty and richness.”

Palilaw is among the 30 students enrolled in the Department of Indigenous Art Industry set up in January 2017 under NKNU’s College of Arts. Designed specifically for aboriginal students, the program encompasses a broad range of areas like metalworking, painting, photography, pottery, print-making, sculpture and weaving, as well as subjects such as design, management and marketing, according to Yao Tsun-hsiung, dean of the college.

“We’re assisting talented young indigenous peoples acquire the knowledge and skills needed for successful careers in the arts and arts administration,” Yao said, adding that although the curriculum is focused on arts training and business management, a large component centers on preserving intergenerational cultural heritage. “It’s our hope that through this course, aboriginal arts and cultures can eventually become a major part of Taiwan’s thriving cultural and creative industry.”

Indigenous Malayo-Polynesian peoples have lived in Taiwan for millenniums. According to the Cabinet-level Council of Indigenous Peoples, the nation’s aboriginal population stands at about 560,000, or 2.4 percent of the 23.5 million total, with 55 districts and townships classified as indigenous regions.

Across the country, 24 colleges and universities offer tailored programs for indigenous students in various disciplines such as arts, civil engineering, design, law, nursing, social work and tourism. Participating schools receive funding from the CIP and Ministry of Education.

In recent decades, a number of laws and measures have been enacted with a view to addressing socioeconomic disadvantages in indigenous communities and safeguarding the ethnicity, interests and rights of aboriginals. These are intended to provide equal access to education, employment, health care and political participation, as well as protect cultures, identities, languages and traditional territories.

When it comes to identifying and rectifying the causes of aboriginal marginalization, “it all begins with culturally sensitive quality education backed by appropriate resources,” according to Yao.

The main dividend of this approach for graduates of the Department of Indigenous Art Industry at NKNU is the chance to pursue rewarding cultural and creative industry careers within the aboriginal arts sector. “Empowering our students with relevant and well-aligned education is changing their destiny and giving tribal communities hope for a brighter future,” Yao said.