Death and decay: Buddhist New Year and the start of new life

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Death and decay: Buddhist New Year and the start of new life


It has been a while in between blogs but since it is April and Buddhist New Year has just past, I thought it would be a good time to start again. 

April 12th - 15th was the celebration of ( Theravada ) Buddhist new year in Southeast Asia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Pi Mai

( the word for new year in Lao), Songkran, is also  the start of the monsoon season.

The celebrations are quite beautiful to witness and take part in as they are lively, very colourful, filled with smiles and laughter. The tradition usually ends in water splashing as a cleansing ritual to welcome to new year.

After several years of learning and watching Master weavers and dyers in Laos and Thailand, I returned back to Australia in 2006. Now that I was without my mentors, I was able to experiment freely. 

The traditional natural dye practice has always been about local and seasonal, so it was only ‘natural’ that I adapted this knowledge to where I was living. When teaching classes and workshops, the practice of local and seasonal can be adapted to anywhere in the world. I take the students for wanders around the street or bushland, where ever we may be. 

My work is a combination of East and West, that was the reason the little cooperatve we established was called Eastern Weft. 

I am proud and truly grateful to be Lao Australian and you may notice in my work that everything I create is a combination of Buddhism and biology (science). 

As I kid, I was always very curious, maybe more so than most because to some extend I felt held back and conflicted because my parents and their traditional Lao values and teachings at home and then at school, I was that we could be whatever we wanted!


This was where my curiosity in life began, to know that there was a big wide world to explore ( my granny and her fellow villagers still thought the world was flat). 

We would go the temple a few times a year, for religious events and celebrations. This is where I developed a dislike for marigold flowers, until l started natural dyeing with flowers, they had only ever been associated with boring religious celebrations and offerings. I also hated the smell of them. 

All I wanted to do was just be Australian!

During my years of returning to work in Laos for  UNICEF and various Aid agencies, I was able to reconnect with my Lao family and understand the culture a bit better. 

My granny would go to the temple every single morning to give alms and work her way up in the Buddhist hierarchy and pray that she would be well taken care of in her next life. 

My Grandma and her pursuit of the afterlife is the inspiration for my work. 

A unique viewpoint of being Lao Australian, using Buddhism to guide me and science to correct me in my daily experiments.

In the western world, death and decay is mostly viewed as sombre and darkness and thought of as the end of life. However, in biology it is the start of life and in Buddhism it is a celebration and preparation for the ‘afterlife’. 

I recently wrote an article for Garland magazine about the use of decay and decomposition in the process of my work.I have always been drawn to discarded materials and objects. This is probably because I have never forgotten the fact that I was a refugee and therefore everything I do is personal. 

Decay and decomposition is seen as the end of life but in biology, it is also the start of life. 

In these images and article, I have allowed the dye baths to fester and rot while textiles soaked underneath, nature controlled the outcome.

Above is an image of a handwoven silk scarf that had been buried in the mud for several months and then dipped in iron water. The scarf began to disintegrate.

Above is an image of a walnut curculio eating its way through merino wool while being soaked in a pot of gulls and rain water, exposed to the elements.

Garland magazine is one of my favourite publications, a platform for thoughtful writing about beautiful objects made today across the wider world by some of the most incredible artists and makers. What an honour to be featured. 

As a thank you and also in celebration of Lao New Year Garland Magazine and I are giving away this silk scarf dyed in all decaying gutter leaves and rusty nails as well as this patchwork cushion.

Thank you for all your support, Samorn, Khaisy and the weavers in Laos.


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