British cartographer strives to create memories for Taiwanese

07/07/2020 08:46 PM
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British artist Tom Rook working on his map of Hamasen, a historic area of Kaohsiung
British artist Tom Rook working on his map of Hamasen, a historic area of Kaohsiung

Taipei, July 7 (CNA) A British artist who makes hand-drawn maps of urban areas in Taiwan said Tuesday that he endeavors to record details that will create special memories for the people of those cities.

Tom Rook, 32, from Exmouth, had drawn some 17 detailed maps of modern and historical Taiwan cities, highlighting their layout and buildings.

"I don't want to sort of just gloss over peoples' existence," said Rook, who has been living in Taiwan for almost 10 years. "I would like people to see where they came from and where they live. I figure it will mean something to more people if they can exactly see their houses, place of work, or where they got married."

His collection of maps includes drawings of Tainan and Taipei in the 1940s, and also modern Taipei, Taichung, Hsinchu, and Chiayi cities. In each one, the roads, buildings and other structures are drawn in fine detail, giving a sense of the urban aesthetics.

"It's really nice when somebody says 'this is my grandfather's house, I was born there, and I remember this from there,'" Rook said.

He said one of his favorite pieces is "Historic Tainan (1945)," which involved visiting museums and bookstores and searching the internet for old photos to get an idea of what the city in southern Taiwan looked like in the 1940s.

During his research, Rook said, he found out that Tainan was redesigned in the 1920s and 30s to add roundabouts and grander public buildings, giving it a more aesthetically pleasing look.

Historic Tainan (1945) / Image courtesy of Tom Rook
Historic Tainan (1945) / Image courtesy of Tom Rook

"The laneways have a bit of a medieval feel to them from being densely packed, and I quite like that," he said. "There're a few old towns and villages near where I grew up, and it kind of reminded me of that."

Rook has been interested in learning about new places ever since he was a young boy. He studied geography at the University of Nottingham and after graduating, decided to look for a job overseas.

He eventually chose to come to Taipei because the city is close to nature, he said. 

After arriving in Taiwan in 2010, he taught English and began drawing maps of Taipei in his spare time, so he could better familiarize himself with the city he was living in, Rook said. However, once he started he then wanted to draw maps of other Taiwanese cities.

Having held some 10 exhibitions in Taiwan over the past decade, Rook said, he has now set his sights on producing a book about his works, and is in talks with some publishers.

"I don't want to overwhelm the drawings with a ton of writing, but I do want to communicate some interesting stuff," he said. "So I'm trying to work out the balance of that."

Rook's hand-drawn maps of places in Taiwan are featured on his website and Instagram page.

(By William Yen)

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