This May, the Alumni Relations Team was thrilled to have the opportunity meet Chelsea MA Textile alumna, Shiyi Cheng. Shiyi has recently volunteered to establish and run a new alumni community in the city of Hangzhou to support graduates living across the Zhejiang province of China. She was back in London exhibiting work from the Craft + project as part of London Craft Week.

Craft + is a research project undertaken by a group of UAL and Royal College of Arts alumni from different design disciplines including, product, jewellery and textiles. The group visits various provinces of China to investigate a variety of traditional local crafts and culture among minority tribes. The designers will then use what they have learnt from the local crafters as inspiration for their own work.

The first journey took them to the southwest of the Guizhou province to visit the Kam community. The designers studied the cultural heritage of the area and used their art and design background to communicate with the local crafters. They were also able to see how the local terrain impacts traditional crafts. Guizhou is known for its rain, luscious plants and bamboo. Bamboo is therefore used a lot in local crafts, and construction of buildings due to its abundance and waterproof qualities.

Shiyi studied MA Textile Design at Chelsea and now focuses her work on accessories. She explains how she became really enamoured by the sense of community among the Kam people. When a family needs to build a house, she explains, the neighbours will lend a hand meaning many emotions go into its construction. “I hope my work expresses my understanding of the ‘emotion’ between the Dong people”. They live a gregarious existence with much of village life centring on the traditional drum tower where most issues are dealt with by the patriarch.

The work Shiyi displayed during the exhibition in London focuses on the drum tower. The colours used mimic the colours of the roof from within the drum tower at sunset which witnesses all the ups and downs of village life. The patterns she uses also resemble the roof tiles of the homes with the overall shape of the shoulder accessories coming from the local women’s dresses.

All Craft + participants are featured in a series of stunning films where they all discuss how the project has helped their own craft.

Shiyi has kindly volunteered to establish an alumni community in her home town of Hangzhou after attending many UAL alumni activities in nearby Shanghai, organised by the UAL Shanghai Alumni Association. These, along with support and encouragement from Shanghai Association President, Oliver Pearce, made Shiyi see the how more localised activities can really benefit alumni in Hangzhou and the surrounding area.

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