Book Shares Story of Indigenous Art at Anthropology Museum2016-01-07

This past November, NTU Press published the intriguing book Artifacts, Forms and Taiwan Indigenous Art: Miyagawa Jiro’s Collection in the Museum of Anthropology at National Taiwan University.  Edited and written by Prof. Chia-Yu Hu of the Department of Anthropology, the book exhibits and shares the story behind the unique and beautiful assemblage of Taiwanese indigenous artifacts collected by the intrepid Japanese entrepreneur Miyagawa Jiro during the early 20th century.
Jiro was unique among collectors of Taiwanese indigenous artifacts during Taiwan’s Japanese colonial period because of his particular motivations, viewpoints, and aesthetic preferences.  Possessing no academic background in anthropology, the businessman was the first collector to appreciate and select these cultural objects as “primitive art.”
From 1933 to 1936, Jiro sold the majority of his collection to the Institute of Ethnology at NTU’s predecessor, Taihoku Imperial University.  Four decades later, Jiro’s artifacts today make up the most beautiful and exquisite collection of the Museum of Anthropology.  The collection and transfer of these artifacts as well as the value attributed to them reflect the complicated interwoven relationships between Taiwan, Japan, and the international community during the colonial era.
For her book, Prof. Hu selected 192 of Jiro’s 260 artifacts now archived at the Museum of Anthropology.  Presented with photographs and explanations, the selections are divided into eight categories: Textile and Costume, Carved Wooden Posts and Statues, Weapons and Shields, Food and Drinking Utensils, Daily Living Instruments, Substances and Manufacturing Tools, Religious and Ceremonial Tools, and Potteryware and Pottery Figures.  The author also provides helpful supplemental material at the end of the book, including a Chinese translation of Jiro’s 1930 book Primitive Art of Taiwan, a complete list of the artifacts collected by Jiro that are archived at the Museum of Anthropology, and a bibliography of Jiro’s publications.
This fascinating and beautiful book delves into Jiro’s attitudes toward the artifacts.  It also explains Jiro’s definition of and personal preferences concerning “primitive art,” and examines the process by which the concept of “primitive art” was established in Taiwan.  Moreover, by relating the artifacts to their own stories to express their special significance, Artifacts allows readers to view the styles and aesthetic beauty of Taiwan’s indigenous art from new perspectives while directly experiencing and appreciating on a visceral level the value and power of these beautiful cultural objects.