YuQi-an’s 4-minute The Story of Mama Butterfly is short for a documentary but impactful nonetheless. Dispensing with perspective representation to a significant degree, it records the cultural history of a group through its embroidery tradition.
The film documents the place of butterfly embroidery in the Miao group in China. Startlingly graphic in its non-perspectival layout, the film impressively lets the details of the intricate work be the focus. Vivid colours, especially blue, are markedly present, making the visuals a pleasure and a memorable one at that.
The voiceover narration from group members recounts the story of the butterfly mother whose eggs became the basis of the Chinese zodiac and the origins of their own group. Of the twelve eggs that the butterfly lay on the Feng Xiang tree, the story goes, one needed the help of the Ji Yu bird to hatch. This egg then became the ancestor of the Miao people. Embroidering butterflies is communicating with their ancestor.
Editing and music are both so skillfully deployed that they foil even those shots that appear vacuous. The editing deftly juxtaposes shots of everyday life with the embroidering process such that they form a natural representation of one another. Indeed, the notion of the art as inherently connected to its surrounding environment is repeatedly reinforced. The needle and thread of their work are romantically likened to pen and ink. The art they inscribe on the fabric is a language that is inaccessible to outsiders.
In sum, The Story of Mama Butterfly is a stunning work of non-fiction that uses colour and space with fidelity to its subject. Ending on the image of a baby carrier, the film connects the past with the future with steadfast beauty.
Watch The Story of Mama Butterfly Documentary
The Story of Mama Butterfly: Painstaking Creation and All its Poetic Ripples