«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
M. Turner, © 2008 ourselves (similar to Anderson’s concepts of imagined communities) from others in this changing environment, and how we search for a clear position on which we stand. Identity provides us with a location in the world as it represents the ‘belongingness’ that we ‘agree’ or ‘approve’ to live with. To identify is to identify fragmented established identities in culture and politics (e.g. how the Taiwanese considered themselves during Japanisation and Sinocisation). Therefore, it is necessary to adjust the definition of our identity in order to compensate for the unstable social and world environment and, thus, identity is something created, man-made, changeable and partly beyond our control.
Postcolonial theories address how people in the developing world (read: the once-being colonised) establish their own identity, either in the cultural or national spheres. The colonised country has to have its own sovereignty and then it can start to set up its cultural identity. Austin Ranney argues that ‘[e]ach nation has sovereignty, which is the full and exclusive legal power to make and enforce laws for a particular people in a particular territory’.57 A radical idea of a nation is that they occupy a particular area of the earth and regard certain people as its citizens and all others as aliens. National identity is therefore how people consider themselves as belonging to a specific nation with a specific territory and government, in which they find shelter and feel safe.
Furthermore, every nation, no matter how large or small, strong or weak, has absolute authority over its own affairs and is completely equal to all other nations in the eyes of international law.
Ranney, Austin. Governing: An Introduction to Political Science. Englewood Cliffs and London: Prentice Hall, 1993, p 19 (original emphasis retained).
M. Turner, © 2008 However, ‘national identity’ in Taiwan seems to be a very complicated matter owing to its historical background and its present political relationship with Mainland China. Due to these complex circumstances, in December 1998, Lee Teng-Hui, during his second Taiwanese presidency, used the term, ‘New Taiwanese’, to create a new definition for Taiwan’s national identity, with the aim of diluting the differences and the hatred among different groups of Taiwanese living on the island. The definition of ‘New Taiwanese’ has changed from being a ‘Taiwanese Nationalist’ to being a new Taiwanese citizen who does not have to have been born in Taiwan, or speak Taiwanese, but lives
cross-ethnic society which aims to forgive historical difficulties and to cooperate with different groups. Furthermore, the idea of ‘New Taiwanese’ softens the tension and conflict between the Taiwan-born Taiwanese and the Mainlanders, and a new understanding of Taiwan’s national identity appears.
Even though Lee’s announcement of ‘New Taiwanese’ is thought to be a political strategy to support Ma Ying-Jeou’s election as mayor of Taipei city in 1998, it does furnish all of the inhabitants of Taiwan with the chance to re-interpret their understanding of national identity. Brown argues that the term, ‘New Taiwanese’, was not only invented by politicians but rather ‘they [politicians] articulated and emphasised a change in Taiwanese identity that had been merely developing over the previous decade’. 58 Therefore, the ideas of ‘New Taiwanese’ are based on the observation of Taiwan’s changing society by Lee and are declared to be clear concepts. Hence, once again, the Brown (2004), op cit, pp 12-13.
M. Turner, © 2008 concepts of the imagined community as a nation have been shifted and this time, it was moved towards a more calm and peaceful condition.
The 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition reminds the Taiwanese of their suppressed past, through which they are aware of their history and of what their parents’ or grandparents’ generations have endured and sacrificed before Taiwan embraced democracy in the late 1980s. I propose that the show aimed to establish a more complete narrative of Taiwan’s history through the means of art rather than to cause more hatred and misunderstanding as a
Exhibition serves as the means for the Taiwanese to fully realise their ‘horizons’ (their positions in history) in the mind’s (artists’) eye, through which they suppose to be more tolerant of differences and to be percipient to amplify the concept of Taiwanese identities.
National Identity/ Gender The postcolonial feminist intelligentsia has devoted much of its debate to national and global politics. They refuse to regard feminism as being simply sexuality but consider that it should be connected with international/national politics and socio-economic policies.60 Having been seen as inferior to their male counterparts, Taiwanese women are also enduring the suppression of ‘double colonisation’, which refers to the fact that women are twice colonised – Chen Hung-Mian addresses a similar point to interpret the discovery of the 228 Incident.
He states that ‘[t]he 228 Incident is a historical event. […] We should reveal the truth of the history in order to record our history in a “healthy” way rather than use it as a means to gain any personal [and political] benefits’. Chen, Hung-Mian. ‘Simulation of the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition: Through Artists and Its Meanings of the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition’ in Journal of Taipei Fine Arts Museum, No 70, February/March 1997, p 4.
See Chiu Kuei-Fen. ‘Post-colonialism Feminism: Gender, Class, Ethnic and Nation’, in Ku, Yen-Lin (ed). Feminist Theories, Taipei: Fembooks, 1996, p 252.
M. Turner, © 2008 both by colonialist realities and representations, and by patriarchal ones.61 Thus, women’s views regarding the debate of nation are different from their male counterparts, who enjoy much more political power in Confucian society.
As a result, Taiwanese feminists are concerned about not only the discourses of gender but also the problems of nation.
Regarding women’s involvement with the issue of nation in Taiwan, the artist Wu Mali (one of the artists invited to participate in the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition in 1997) states that ‘Taiwan’s nationalism and institutions are established on the basis of patriarchal ideology; women are always the “outsiders” within this kind of system’.62 Since 1987, the arguments centring on the notion of identity have attracted considerable academic attention, and in Taiwan, identity is mostly discussed in the context of the ‘New Taiwanese’.
However, there are many different attitudes towards national identity among Taiwanese women’s groups. Some Taiwanese feminists think that it is necessary to participate in politics, by means of which they can have a practical influence on a political party,63 whilst on the contrary, others view nationalism as a sign of male, patriarchal, ethnic and capitalist hegemony, under which women’s rights may be ignored and traditional patriarchy emphasised in the process of establishing a national identity. 64 However, McLeod, John. Beginning Postcolonialism. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000, p 175.
See Chen, Elsa Hsiang-Chun. Translating Dialogue: Journeys Between Art and Social Contexts. Taipei: Artists Publisher, 2004, p 30.
Hsu Chia-Ching. ‘Women’s Movements, National Resources and Political Participation’, Disturbance Journal, Volume 3, January 1997, pp 88-92.
In Taiwan, the people who seriously criticised nationalism were the members of Isle-Margin, an important journal published from 1991 to 1996. It was edited by some Taiwanese scholars with critical and cultural perspectives; one of the editors was Wu Mali. The website of Isle-Margin is http://www.intermargins.net/intermargins/IsleMargin/index.htm, consulted on 14 Feb 2007.
M. Turner, © 2008 Taiwanese women artists were keen to create artworks for the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition in order to show their ideas of national identity and to visualise the impact of the Incident. Moreover, the topic of ‘national identity’ is so sensitive that it provides artists with subject matter that is particularly meaningful for the Taiwanese.
National identity is always perceived vaguely in Taiwan, because cultural influences of previous colonisers have affected the Taiwanese cultural structure so much that there are still many Taiwanese who hold ambiguous attitudes towards their origins. The debates on national identity still remain blurred on the island and a fixed idea or concept of ‘what Taiwan is’ may be just an enigma. However, what intrigues me most is how women find their location and ‘voice’ in this kind of environment. I suggest that the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition has conveyed some answers by showing women’s artistic creation.
2.28 Commemorative Exhibition: The Forgotten Women The four 2.28 Commemorative Exhibitions were held in the FAMT under the mayorship of Chen Sheui-Bian between 1994 and 1999. The titles of the shows were Retrospection and Introspection (1996), Sorrow and Sublimation (1997), Reflection and Reconsideration (1998) and Historical Event Re-mapping: Witnesses, Reflections and Revivals (1999). Most of the artists represented at these shows were men. For example, there were forty-three artists invited to the second 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition, but only six of them were women, including Hsiao Li-Hung, Liu Hsiu-Mei, Wu Mali, Lin Pey-Chwen, Tsai Hai-Ru, Chien Fu-Yu, whose artworks are all relevant to the M. Turner, © 2008 themes of gender, nation, history and memory and were created in the form of installation, multi-media and paintings. Even though those artists participating in the second 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition combined issues of politics and history into their works, in fact, there were only a few Taiwanese women artists who really used them as their main concepts. Unlike the fields of literature, performance or drama, most of the Taiwanese women artists in fine arts have not been used to creating artworks that express a strong political intention of gender or nation, except the works in the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition.
Yang Wen-I argues that most Taiwanese women’s art is more self-indulgent
than politically motivated by stating that:
As far as the creative direction of most [other] Taiwanese women artists is concerned, two major tendencies can be detected. One is concerned with projections of mind and soul, of inner emotions, depicting in a predominantly abstract style spiritual directions of the artists’ psychological world and consciousness. The other tendency relies on the use of materials and images which represent the peculiarities of the female body and mind, such as delicacy, sensitivity, emotionality, softness, which all appear in works of art of this kind.65 The 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition in 1997 was one of the most important exhibitions in Taiwanese women’s art history as the show was arranged specifically to reveal the suffering of the women victims during the 228 Incident.66 The emphasis of women’s perspective towards the Incident in this Yang, Wen-I. ‘A Banana is not a Banana’ in Dysart, Dinah and Hannah Fink (eds). Asian Women Artists. Roseville East: Craftsman House, 1995, pp 45-46. Chien Ying-Ying proposes a similar view and states that ‘in the whole artistic field and the field of political art [in Taiwan], it is very rare that women’s art is created to connect the issues of gender and nation’. Chien, Ying-Ying. ‘Daughters’ Ceremony: Taiwanese Women’s Spirits and Environmental/ Political Art’ in Lin, Pey-Chwen (ed). Women’s Arts: Phenomena of Taiwanese Women’s Art and Culture. Taipei: Fembook Publisher, 1998, pp 188-189.
In the Foreword of the exhibition catalogue, the Director of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Lin Mun-Lee, asserts that ‘the exhibition not only shows concern for the pain of the victims, but M. Turner, © 2008 exhibition can also be seen in three essays included in the catalogue, including Hsieh Li-Fa’s ‘Memorialise the 228 Tragedy: How Art can Overcome the Shadow from the Politics’, Chen Fang-Ming’s ‘The Door of Destructions’ and ‘The History of Female Victims of the 228 Incident’, written by Chang Yan-Hsien.67 In contrast to most galleries and museums in Taiwan, which offer free entrance for visitors, tickets are required to enter the FAMT (30 Taiwanese dollars, which is approximately £0.50, or 15 Taiwanese dollars for concessions).
Nevertheless, the low cost to enter the museum still makes it appealing to the general public, especially for art-lovers not only from Taipei city but also from all over Taiwan. The popularity of, and easy access to the museum increased the exposure and discussion of the show, through which visual art produces cultural identity and political dialogues.
The exhibition was displayed both inside and outside the museum, including the square space in front of the main entrance, the main hall, two major hallways and two gallery rooms on the ground floor. In other words, the exhibition was arranged to be shown on the whole ground floor space of the museum, exhibiting works created by artists of different generations and of diverse ethnic origins. It is evident that the museum ambitiously utilised any space for artists to express their responses to the themes of each category,
also reveals the suffering of women after the Incident’. Thus, women’s points’ of views towards the Incident are the main themes, around which this show was organised. Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Sadness Transformed – 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition. Exh Cat., Taipei, 1997, p 13.
M. Turner, © 2008 two-dimensional paintings, photographs and three-dimensional sculpture and installations.
Forty three artists were involved in this show, I have specifically looked at Wu Mali’s work, Epitaph (1997) [fig 12 and fig 13], which attracted the most critical attention in Taiwan’s artistic field, and Lin Pey-Chwen’s Black Wall, Inside and Outside the Window (1997).68 When the show finished, Wu’s Epitaph was added to the collection of the Fine Arts Museum of Taipei and can now be accessed through the archive of the museum.