Inside

RCA Research Celebrates Craftswomen of Southeast Asia

On the Line: New Perspectives on Craft in Southeast Asia is an exhibition at The Aram Gallery, which offers insights into the lives and practices of craftswomen working in Southeast Asia today. 

The exhibition is the result of a knowledge exchange collaboration between the RCA and the British Council in Southeast Asia. It showcases the findings of six RCA students that were teamed with six local researchers in Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar, and features the 65 works they collected, along with photographs and films documenting their experience.

‘This exhibition is timely. From Shoreditch to San Francisco, Sao Paulo to Shanghai, craft everywhere is in the spotlight as part of social, cultural, educational and economic agendas,’ explained Martina Margetts, Senior Tutor in Critical & Historical Studies, who curated the exhibition.

Martina continued: ‘There is a shift from consuming things to producing things, from profitability to sustainability. There is also the recognition that using materials and making things are in the human DNA and the resulting knowledge and knowhow are cornerstones of innovation. This fits with the RCA’s research interests in human understanding and development through art and design, connecting what is known to create the as yet unknown.’

For three weeks in December 2016, the RCA students, selected from an open call, visited rural women’s craft communities to see how their skills, culture and way of life are being challenged by globalisation and technological change.

History of Design PhD candidate Magali An Berthon visited Thailand with Textiles PhD candidate Pathitta Nirunpornputta, where they were joined by social enterprise expert Peewara Jitsukummongkol and historian and textiles curator Methaporn Singhanan. 

‘The project allowed me to work with other researchers, all of them originally from Thailand, with different perspectives on Northern Thai textile crafts,’ said Magali. ‘The collaborative aspect of the project was a great experience. Sharing our impressions and producing a common research statement with our combined voices really opened my approach as a researcher.’

In Vietnam, first-year Visual Communication MA student Tenaya Steed and second-year MA Information Experience Design student Grace Crannis were joined by cultural researcher Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen and textile artist and fashion designer Thao Vu. 

‘The chance to spend time with the incredible women we met in Vietnam was without a doubt the best part of the trip – I was in awe of the amount of time they invested in their craft,’ Grace commented. ‘It was so exciting to see the potential for these processes to be adapted and used in ways that will keep the traditional skills alive. Spending several weeks recording and interviewing on location was such a privilege, which has shaped the way I will approach storytelling in the future.’

First-year MA Visual Communication student Sandra Sordini and second-year MA Sculpture student Sam Carvosso, visited Myanmar where they carried out research with anthropologist Ja Htoi Pan and social enterprise expert Tin Maung Htoo / Mo Lwin. 

‘Especially in the textile sector, much of the weaving is still done on handlooms, the work is often repetitive and labour-intense, and culturally in women’s hands,' Sandra explained. 'As a visual storyteller, I wanted to share a glimpse into the daily work of the women we met, from the 13-year-old weaving student to the 78-year-old factory worker, capturing our impressions in a short documentary.’


On the Line: New Perspectives on Craft in Southeast Asia is open 4 May – 17 June 2017 at The Aram Gallery, 110 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2B 5SG. Full details of the exhibition can be found here.

As part of London Craft Week 2017, the exhibition will be accompanied by Material World, a free panel discussion in partnership with the Crafts Council on 5 May, chaired by Martina Margetts and including two of the researchers featured in On the Line: Magali An Berthon and Thao Vu.