I’ll never tire to say that the Chinese culture can be unique and even strange for a European, American, or African mind. But the combination of Chinese and Tibetan cultures is doubly remarkable. See for yourself. This article is dedicated to a really extraordinary craft – hair embroidery. The craftswoman uses her hair as threads. Though, it’s not a joke or some eccentric modern art – it’s an ancient craft that is based on a deep meaning and symbolism, on mantras, and spirituality.
Since the time of the Tang Dynasty (1300 years ago), hair has been used to embroider sacred tapestries which transmit the wisdom of spiritual leaders through generations. In a remote town in the plains of Southern China, a dedicated group of artisans continues this tradition. Inspired by Yuan Miao, they create embroideries of Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy, embodiment of maternal compassion in East Asian culture) in a view on Miao’s contemporary art.
According to Himalayan texts dating back thousands of years, hair of a selfless, spiritually radiant, loving person, carrying the blood of sages, can embody and transmit the energy of a Dharma lineage. Yuan Miao’s bloodline carries the genes of holy sages both of Han and Tibetan descent. She transmits maternal compassion and wisdom from the universe's source.
Yuan Miao, the descendant of a high Tibetan Rinpoche (Tibetans use this term to indicate a very wise person, like Lamas, teachers of the Dharma, abbots, etc.), a dakini and zen master, has been creating yantras for many years. A yantra could be described as a visual representation of a mantra.
Yuan Miao has been saving her hair for over a decade to create this collection of traditional Guanyins and modern yantras. The hair carries the life essence of her ancestors, becoming an offering to past and future generations.
The creation begins with an empty canvas. Handwoven in fine silk and colored with natural pigments. After the paint dries, an artisan carefully transfers the original drawing onto the silk using ink and a bamboo brush.
Thousands of individual hairs are carefully untangled and separated, then washed in egg yolk and water.
The master artisan of this unique collection has been embroidering for over 30 years continuing the spiritual tradition she learned from her grandmother.
The embroidering of delicate hair requires not only extraordinary precision and steadiness of hand but also great devotion. As she works, she silently recites the Bodhisattvas mantra: Om mani padme hum.
The unique process continues with the making of a flour glue, as ancient as the tradition itself. The rear of the canvas is covered with numerous layers of cotton paper which will preserve the embroidery for centuries to come. The three-week process comes to a completion by mounting the tapestry to a cloth frame.
These precious embroideries are no mere artwork but rather extraordinary yantras of transcendence, connecting the viewer to maternal energy direct from the universal source. These cherished hair-stitched embroideries transcend culture and religion, transmitting Guanyin teachings through every strand of hair.