‘Bijie Yi Baby Carrier’


Design No: CH1120
Embroidery Style: Suo Xiu, Ping Xiu
Era: Late Qing Era (circa 1900)
Framed Dimensions:
580mm x 570mm

The Story behind the Artwork

The Yi people of Guizhou, who belong to many different clans and tribes, make and wear approximately three hundred distinctly different types of garment. The Wu Meng Shan type is favoured among women of the Bijie Yi. The Bijie area has been very important to the history of the whole of the Yi. The clothing of women in the area not only kept over centuries the traditions of the Yi but also showed the changes that occurred in their society from the late Ming onward, when a Han influence began to enter their culture. A phrase used widely was ‘gai tu gui liu’, which means ‘drop the old and go with the new’. The Yi people have a strongly animist religious tradition, worshipping tigers, dragons and fire, among other things. Also they have a deep and strong love of natural beauty. Flowers with odd or extraordinary shapes, for example, hold a particular fascination and are used widely in their art.

This piece is a rare example of Yi embroidery reaching a level of the finest quality. A sifang flower, literally meaning ‘four corners’ flower, is at the very centre, symbolizing the genitalia of a woman. Four birds, flanking the flower, are formed from the decorative motif known as ‘flower grass’. The birds symbolize men’s genitals. The beaks of the four birds touch the flower, which is an esoteric way of portraying sex between men and a woman. The style, while using flowing natural forms, is highly abstract.

Green and white are the key colours, on a base cloth of hand-woven black calico, which creates a high contrast. The artist has edged the decorative elements with shiny silk in order not only to create a sense of luxury but also, thanks to the shininess, to keep evil away from the baby seated inside the carrier.

The embroidery of the piece required the artist to keep extremely close control of the stitch. The decorative elements are built up with flat embroidery, overworked with locked-edge stitch, which is not only very laborious but demands a high level of skill. Very few pieces of such high quality and style have survived from the Yi. This is a rare collector’s work.