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The Yi Tribes: Extraordinary Ethnic Dress in Southwest China 

by Serena Lee

Researcher, Cultural Explorer, Photographer, Writer, Artisan, and Founder and Leader, Textile Odyssey Tours 

Sponsored by the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California, Inc.


The ethnic dress and textiles of the Southwest Chinese minorities are legendary in their drama and beauty.  Serena Lee began researching and photographing these tribes and their costumes in 2007; this presentation will focus on several subgroups of the Yi, a large ethnic group that remains largely unknown to the outside world. The dress and textiles of the Yi demonstrate incredible color, imagination, and skill. Serena will transport us to small villages, markets and festivals where the Yi continue to make and wear their distinctive ethnic dress.  Many continue to practice ancient techniques such hand spinning yarns, weaving, embroidery, applique, piecework, indigo-dyeing, batik and felt-making. Modern embellishments such as colorful fabrics, ribbons, silver ornaments, tassels, and beads purchased at local markets add to the repertory of color and design choices for fresh, new renditions of ethnic dress. Glimpses into the daily lives of these living cultures will provide insights into how ethnic dress and textiles reflect history, identity, cultural beliefs and ancestral connections between subgroups.

Serena Lee received a BA, Cum Laude at San Francisco State University, and an MA at New College of California, San Francisco.  She has spent more than 5 years, cumulatively, in remote areas of Asia, and founded Textile Odyssey Tours in 2000, leading cultural and textile-related tours that explore the tribes of Southeast Asia, China, and the Himalayas. Serena’s travels are the basis of many articles and papers she has written, including “Cultural Continuity and Social Structure through the Lens of Ethnic Dress and Textiles: Case Studies in Northern Vietnam, Southwest China, Myanmar (Shan State) and Indonesia (Timor Barat and Flores),” and “Crossing Borders and Time: Ethnic Dress Across the Borderlines of Northern Vietnam and Southwest China in the 21st Century.”  Serena has presented her work internationally at universities, textile and anthropology conferences, as well as museums, weaving and fiber art guilds, and ethnic textile groups. Her vivid photography documenting the people, clothing, and textile techniques of tribal Asia are published in several books.  She is an advisor to the board of the Textile Arts Council of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and leader of its Ethnic Textiles Study Group.


10 a.m., Saturday, October 31, 2020,  Live via Zoom

Zoom Registration:


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