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Living, Breathing Heritage
Cover Stories Series 2012> Living, Breathing Heritage
UPDATED: February 29, 2012 Web Exclusive
Tradition Meets Modern, or Vice-Versa?
Folk artists preserve and innovate China's intangible cultural heritage
By Ma Li

EXPERT NEEDLEWORK: Huang Chunya shows her skills of suxiu embroidery at the exhibition held in National Agriculture Exhibition Center in downtown Beijing (SHI GANG)

Modernize through needlework

"The sky seems lying on the wheat field and it makes it hard for you to breathe with the solidified air around. A flock of crows fly low over the moving horizon, which adds to your pressure and anxiety." Huang Chunya explained her embroidered version of Vincent van Gogh's painting Wheatfield with Crows at the exhibition. This blend of different art forms inspired her innovative mind thereafter.

Huang, 58, is a master of arts and crafts. She updates a traditional embroidery technique by borrowing Western fine arts elements, forming her own unique style.

Suxiu--Suzhou City's eponymous embroidery style--features colorful, elegant and exquisite craftsmanship and is enjoying a boom in east China's Jiangsu Province.

"Suxiu has a history of two thousand years. It can take strength from other art forms with its own style unchanged. Through such communication between arts, can they go further and do better," Huang said.

However, Suzhou embroidery once faced a worsening situation of inheritance, since many people are not willing to devote themselves to this austere occupation.

"Considering that there are fewer and fewer heirs, we train apprentices according to individual aptitude and they can make progress more quickly," Huang added.

Within two years, the individual training not only alleviated the shortage of cultural inheritors, but also wove new innovations into the colorful tapestry of Suzhou embroidery.

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