Sun Yanling 孙艳玲 spends most of her days sitting behind a large metal or wooden frame, which keeps her embroidery taut. At first glance, some mistake her work for paintings. Her most recent creation, a highly detailed rendering of a parrot with its wings outstretched in midflight, is so realistic that most Festival visitors instinctively had to touch it in order to believe that it is made completely from silk—thousands of tiny silk threads that were hand stitched, one by one, into the material.
Sun, a Bohai Mohe embroiderer, was one of the thirty-six craftspeople featured in the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s program China: Tradition and the Art of Living. Silk embroidery is an art that is ubiquitous throughout China, primarily practiced by women as a means of making both practical objects for personal use and for sale in the market. However, each region has its own style and variations, including Sun’s hometown of Mudanjiang in Heilongjiang Province.
This online exhibition of her work explores how her techniques relate to her geographical region and ethnic identity, drawn from her experience as one of the few Bohai Mohe people in China who still practice this craft.
The original article and interview appeared on the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage website.