Friday, June 18, 2010

Yao Artifacts Set Path from Culture’s Past to Future

by Haley Cowans,
Miriam Moeller,
Haley Underwood,
Kaylyn Johnston,

The Yao Ceremonial Artifacts housed in the Frederick and Kazuko Harris Fine Arts Library at Ohio University are providing a link from the early teachings of the first Yao people to students and staff curious about this unique culture.

The collection includes masks, scrolls, paintings, robes, and musical instruments. These pieces originate from the religious traditions of Yao, which incorporates teachings from Buddhism and Taoism. Its early followers originated from China, but migrated to Vietnam to avoid judgment, according to Fine Arts librarian Gary Ginther.

“Yao are kind of the hillbillies in North Vietnam,” Ginther explained.

The library obtained this rare collection through a chance meeting. The founder of the library, Frederick Harris, was living in Tokyo when he became interested in the art of Vietnam. In his travels, he met an art collector who had several Yao artifacts.

The art collector wanted to find a place where the materials could be together and accessible to as many people as possible.

“[The] paintings [are] actually used in sets, for movable shrines,” Ginther clarified.

Harris suggested that the collection be housed in his library at Ohio University.

The artifacts are available for students of Ohio University to view at this site.

Most of the pieces are actually traced from older pieces, and then the originals were burned. These newer works range in age from about 50 to 150 years. The pictures are created with both chemical and natural dyes, Ginther said.

Modern followers of the Yao religion pay homage to their old traditions through artwork like this. The materials are a major part of the Yao religious tradition. The art acts as a tribute to the deities of the religion, a form of record keeping, and cautionary tales. It is comparable to the books used in Western religions, such as the Bible.

“[The Yao] are practicing a kind of hybrid religion,” Ginther reflected, “which probably isn’t kosher.”