Dreams of yellow: Documenting the making and performance of Nuosu oil-cloth umbrellas

By David Francis, Yiluo Mose, Lisheng Zhang | 12 August 2022

This project seeks to document the production and use of yellow oilcloth umbrellas by the Nuosu people in the region of Liangshan, southwest China. The project will visually record the process of making umbrellas by the handful of Nuosu crafts-people who still construct them. It will also document the role of the umbrellas in the annual torch ceremony held over three days in the sixth month (July/August) of the Nuosu calendar. Semi-structured interviews about the making and use of the umbrellas will be used to chart the changes in both the material and social functions of the umbrella within the lives of the Nuosu community.

Made from oil-cloth, the yellow of the umbrella also comes from the tung oil that makes it water resistant. The yellow oil-cloth umbrella is an iconic symbol of Nuosu femininity and is closely associated with Dutzie, the annual torch festival. Debates around the authenticity of the torch festival, as it becomes increasingly stage-managed by the state, echo concerns about the replacement of the yellow oil-cloth umbrella with mass-produced, plastic and nylon alternatives. Only a few craftspeople are still making yellow oil-cloth umbrella in their traditional strongholds of Butuo and Puge counties in Liangshan and many are abandoning their practice as they can no longer make a viable living from it.

The project will be conducted in partnership with Echo of Liangshan – a community-led, grassroots cultural organisation based in Liangshan that seek to explore and promote the cultural heritage of the region.

 

PI:
David Francis

Collaborators:
Yiluo Mose
Lisheng Zhang

Location of Research:
Liangshan, China

Host Institution:
Institute of Archaeology, University College London