The Alangyi Historic Trail, located in the southeastern part of Taiwan, traverses the island’s only remaining stretch of untouched seashore. Established in the 1870s, the path was frequented by Indigenous tribes of the area for hunting and trade.
At one point, the 12-kilometre-long path, which runs from Taitung County’s Nantian Village to Syuhai Village in Pingtung, was almost wiped out by a planned provincial highway. But years of appeals to save it by activists helped preserve it and its many endemic plants and animals, and led to the establishment of a nature reserve around the area.
To encourage tourists and hikers to spend more time on the trail and the surrounding area, and to explore the local Indigenous culture, the government of Taitung County proposed a large art installation on Alangyi and they invited Dave Hind, a Hamilton-born artist, to undertake it.
Hind said he was commissioned because of his past work depicting images of large hands. He knew the local government wanted a sculpture to highlight hand tattooing, an important feature of the traditional Indigenous Paiwan culture.
Taitung has the highest proportion of Indigenous people of any county in Taiwan. The seven Indigenous tribes of area – the Amis, Beinan, Bunun, Yami, Paiwan, Rukai and Kavalan – make up 30 per cent of the entire county’s population of 215,000.
Wang Chih Hui, deputy governor of the Taitung County government, describes the hand tattoo custom as the “the treasure of tribes culture in Taiwan.”
It’s “on the verge of vanishing,” he said, adding the tattoos reflect social status in Paiwan culture. Commonly seen markings include hundred-pacer snakes (a breed of snake).
Hind said, in the past, his sculptures depicted either a pair of hands interacting with each other, or a single hand holding something up. This time, he wanted the hand to be directly connected to the landscape: The trail has towering green hills on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.
Hind’s work also frequently uses recycled, salvaged and found materials, and he said for nearly 30 years he’s tried to ensure his work conveys an environmental message. He said for this piece, he found common ground between his own beliefs and those of the local people – the essential importance of protecting the sea.
“The oceans are direct connector between all of the countries of the world.”
He said he initially envisioned the piece with a large hand holding a fish hook, which connects to a line that looks like pulling plastic debris out of the ocean. In Taitung, he spent time talking to members of the tribe in Nantian Village, learning the meaning of different tattoos and sharing his ideas for the project. Eventually, he was introduced to a Paiwan artist, Rang Li, who created the patterns of waves of mountains, symbolizing abundance and prosperity of the land, for the project.
Hind, who is often critical of his own work, said he is pleased with the outcome.
It’s “fantastic,” he said.
“What I found was so great about the project is that it really was focused on building relationships, building relationships with the Indigenous community.”
Wang said the piece will officially be open to the public this month. Although, according to posts on social media, it has already proven to be a popular check-in point during the past two months.
For Hind, he hopes the this project could inspire the birth of a program where cleaning the beach can be part of the hiking experience at Alangyi.
Hind said he is slowly moving away from making art his source of income, but this project excited him about art-making again.
“It’s a way of meeting people, exchanging ideas of bringing your talents and trying to offer them to whatever other people need.”