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Ethnographic Museum

Hidden Complexities – Unfolding Miao Women’s Textile Skills

12 December 2021 to 12 March 2023


Richly colourful and highly decorated with appliqués, the garments made by Miao women captivate onlookers with their strong visual appeal. A closer look at the dense surfaces of Miao clothing, praised for their ‘exuberance of colours’ and ‘explosion of patterns’, reveals complex skills: knowledge of the raw material and its properties in use, great proficiency with needle and thread, and command of the interplay between materiality and technique, colour and form. Miao women communicate and interact through their textiles and utilise their craft as a means of self-representation and self-assurance.

Since the 16th century CE, the manifold textile varieties in the South-Western Chinese mountain regions have received unwavering interest from all over China – texts, drawings and, much later, political posters and photography have all engaged with Miao clothing.

This exhibition attempts to unlock the complexity of the textile knowledge and skill of Miao women’s work through an examination of Karola Kauffmann’s collection. It highlights questions about the proximity or distance of the self-presentation and representation of ethnic diversity in the context of social change and cultural-political tensions.


Hidden Complexities

Publication to the exhibition

Wernsdörfer, Martina, and Flitsch, Mareile, eds. (2022). Hidden Complexities–Unfolding Miao Women’s Textile Skills. Zurich: Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich.

80 pages, 61 images, 10 scientific drawings, 1 map, ISBN 978-3-033-09572-4

CHF 20.00

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Hidden Complexities

360° documentation "Hidden Complexities"

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