Thread songs

Gill Green

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“Gills of the mushroom cap”. Photograph: Philippe Fatin

As a child, Philippe Fatin listened fascinated as his father, tuning the fine copper wire of a crystal radio, sent stories whispering through headphones. His spirit of adventure and search for diversity later exposed him to quite different kinds of threads, redolent with their own stories. Formal studies not being for him, in 1983 he embarked on the Trans-Siberian Railway and headed east to China, at a time when the Cultural Revolution had scarcely ended and foreign visitors were rare. Travel information was difficult to find, but he glimpsed tempting destinations on government television, one being Huangguoshu National Park in the heart of Guizhou province, south-west China. It was here that his “Thread Songs” collection began.

1987 found Fatin in Guiyang, where he befriended a mix of “artists and eccentric bohemians” from whom he learned of the Miao people secreted in enclaves in the nearby mountains. Here the “Miao tribes had spread their network of their multiple identities, with needlework as their banners”. Here he encountered other fine threads, which recorded in stitch the oral history of the Miao peoples. He lived in Guizhou until 2008, becoming deeply involved with the Miao. Given the Sinicised name of “Feilipu”, he took every opportunity to see and learn as much as he could of Miao cultural life.

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