Meet Our Artisans of Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre, Laos
The women of Laos have been weaving for over 1,000 years. They are passionate about silk weaving, and joyfully work their looms. Silk weaving plays a vital role in Lao tradition. Textile connoisseurs have long admired Laotian weaving skills. In recent years, many foreigners have come to Laos to help reviving this ancient art.
“To witness someone setting up a loom by hand, which can take up to two weeks for a complicated pattern, and then watch them calmly sit down to weave the design slowly and methodically, for up to six months, is a meditation.”
The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre is a museum in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, Lao PDR. It is the only independent non-profit museum and resource centre in Laos dedicated to the collection, preservation, and interpretation of the traditional arts and lifestyles of the country’s many and diverse ethnic groups.
TAEC was founded in 2006 and opened its doors in July 2007, featuring professional exhibitions on the ethnic cultures of Laos, a Museum Shop promoting handicrafts from village artisans, and Le Patio Café. In its first four years, TAEC welcomed over 38,000 Lao and international visitors and has rapidly emerged as a regional leader in cultural heritage management and community development.
Today, the Centre is engaged in a broad range of museum and community engagement activities, reflecting its commitment to supporting living ethnic minority communities to preserve and promote their cultural heritage while looking towards the future. TAEC believes in supporting not just cultural traditions, but sustainable livelihoods for rural ethnic minorities. Ethnic minority communities living in rural areas make up the poorest sector of the Lao population. Recognising the unique obligations of a museum working with these communities, TAEC runs an innovative livelihoods development programme based on traditional handicraft skills. The overwhelming majority of handicraft producers in the programme are ethnic minority women, who studies have shown spend their income on their family’s food, health, and education needs. Currently, TAEC supports over 600 handicrafts producers and their families in 12 provinces of Laos. TAEC is an active member of Fair Trade Lao.
Meet the Team
Tara Gujadhur co-founded the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre with Thongkhoun Soutthivilay in 2006. Tara has a BA in Anthropology and an MSc in Sustainable Tourism, and 12 years experience in tourism development, cultural heritage management, and community development throughout Southeast Asia and Southern Africa. She worked with the Khasi in northeast India, the San (Bushmen) in Botswana, and has since spent a significant amount of time in rural villages in Laos. She came to Laos in 2003 with a development agency and spent three years advising the government on sustainable tourism, primarily in ethnic communities before starting TAEC. She guides TAEC’s research, marketing and strategic development, among other responsibilities.
Thongkhoun Soutthivilay co-founded TAEC with Tara Gujadhur and has shared the Directorship since its opening. Born and raised in Luang Prabang, Khoun worked at the Luang Phabang National Museum for over 10 years, finishing as Collection Manager. She has studied and attended training in Thailand, the Netherlands, Japan, and Laos, on Museum Management, Conservation and Exhibition of Southeast Asian Collections, and Conservation of Textiles. She was an Asian Cultural Council Fellow in 2008 based at the Smithsonian on Exhibition Design, and a resident at the Saitama Prefecture Museum in Japan from 2003-2004. Khoun oversees TAEC’s livelihoods activities, the TAEC Shop and collections management, and develops exhibitions together with Tara.