Taiwan: Preserving memories of Losheng

The Losheng Sanatorium was built in 1929 by Japanese government when Japan colonized Taiwan. It was originally named Rakusei Sanatorium for Lepers of Governor-General of Taiwan (台灣總督府癩病療養樂生院). During the Japanese colonial period, leprosy patients were forced to live in the sanatorium for quarantine and treatment. Ironically, it has become their only home after all these years of isolation. However, due to the construction of the Taipei Mass Rapid Transportation, many buildings in the sanatorium were forced to be removed, and the residents dislocated.

The action of saving the Losheng Sanatorium has not been as successful as many people hoped. Many buildings in the sanatorium have been and are still being torn down. Yet, many still try very hard to keep the Losheng community together and preserve their memory of their dear home. Masao Okabe's frottage workshop is one of the initiatives.

The demolished Losheng Sanatorium. Photo courtesy of Chyng.

The Japanese frottage artist, Masao Okabe (岡部昌生; ヴェネチア・ビエンナーレ) heard the story about the Losheng Sanatorium, and he decided to hold a frottage workshop to help people preserve their memory of Losheng. The frottage workshop was held on 3/22, for the sanatorium residents and their supporters. There are a number of carry-on discussions about the workshop.

about_fish talked about what she thinks about frottage.



How far is the closest distance between you and the earth?

This is the question I want to ask myself most after watching the photos that present how Japanese frottage artist, Masao Okabe, rubbing a crayon over a piece of paper.


To create “frottage art,” we need to put a piece of paper on an object. This art is about recording the trace of our past and recording our memory of the earth. To do it, we must bend over, kneel down, or squat so that we can contact the earth directly for a period of time. The whole process is like a religious ritual. We must respect the history and the earth so that we can hear they speak to us.

Masao Okabe demonstrated the making of frottage art. Photo courtesy of loshengschool.

Photo courtesy of loshengschool.

In a forum held in the National Taiwan University, Masao Okabe and his fellow Japanese artist, Chihiro Minato (港千尋; みなと ちひろ), talked about why they held the frottage workshop in the Losheng Sanatorium. Chihiro Minato said it is about we losing the memory of our past:


I was invited to Taiwan because of the Losheng Sanatorium. I wonder when the buildings of the Losheng Sanatorium disappear, do they have a future. Losing the memory of our past is a very serious problem in our society.

Masao Okabe talked about why he chooses frottage as the medium to preserve our memory:

城市宛如巨大的板木,人的生活、歷史和痕跡都在城市裡,所以想用紙張把城市的記憶拓下來。 …我對拓繪藝術最深刻的體會就是拓繪過程本身,在拓繪道路時,好像把城市的皮膚撿拾起來,藉以傳達那個城市的變化。

A city is like a gigantic wood plate, and we have carved our life, our history, and our trace on it. This is why I rub a crayon over the paper: I want to transfer our memory about the city to the paper…To me, the deepest realization is in the process. When I rub over the road on the paper, I feel like picking up the skin of the city so that I can tell others the changes happened in the city.

Annpo shared her experience of this frottage workshop.


Creating frottage art is different from taking photos. To create frottage art, we must touch the object we want to rub over…We inevitably see the details of this object. When we touch this object, it will relate to us, and we will have a memory of it. Thus, this object relates itself to our life. The object you choose in the workshop must be the object in the Losheng Sanatorium that moves you most.

Chihiro Minato described how the sanatorium residents participated in the workshop.

今天下午我們到樂生院,跟樂生院民一起作拓繪。那裡的院民大部分都在樂生住了一輩子,對老人家來說,樂生幾乎就是他們的故鄉。…今天看到院民用蠟筆一起做拓繪,他們作過截肢的手其實不太方便,必須用失去手指的僅剩關節,小心夾住筆,再慢慢地摩擦拓繪。看到他們細心的動作,我非常感動…很像媽媽剛生小孩時,會對小孩輕輕撫摸的那種動作,這動作本身會 否激起院民們很原始的情感呢?

This afternoon we went to the Losheng Sanatorium and rubbed the crayons over the paper with the sanatorium residents. They have been in the sanatorium their whole life. To them, Losheng is their home…Today, I saw them rub crayons over the paper with us. It is not comfortable for some of them whose fingers were amputated: they used the residual finger joints to hold the crayon and rub it. I was moved. Their action is like the soft touch a mother gives her newborn. Does this action evoke the residents’ deep affection?

Masao Okabe talked about what he had learned from working with the sanatorium residents:


These residents face the crisis of losing their home, so they understood what I want to do instantly and joined me with their heart. We rubbed the crayons together, and they told me their stories. At the end, in addition to the substance, we have created new feelings in the process.

A sanatorium resident was watching the frottage art made in Losheng. Photo courtesy of Annpo.

In the workshop, the sanatorium residents shared their thoughts with other participants.


Uncle A-Tien said, he looked at the frottage art created by all of us carefully. He wants to see how others look at Losheng and the memory people preserve. No matter it is a flower, grass, a tree, a stone, or a root, it is always connected to his life. He is very sure that this is his home. It is his home even when there is only one stone left.

A workshop participant, Annpo said her feelings were complicated because


when we talked about the importance of the memory of a city and how we can use art to preserve the history, we heard the roaring sounds due to demolishing the buildings.

Uncle Lee chose the words he loves. Photo courtesy of loshengschool.

Gaea, another workshop participant, talked about how she was comforted by the frottage art created by Uncle Lee, a sanatorium residents:


I remember the words uncle Lee, who is a sanatorium resident, chose to rub over: a person who has a gentle heart and loves the world does not worry. When I saw it, I was shocked, and my heart is torn. Compared to our angry and sharp accusation, his accusation is expressed so tolerantly.

More photos about the frottage workshop are online.

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