«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
Wu Mali was born in 1957 in Taipei, Taiwan, and graduated in 1979 from Tamjang University with a degree in German language and culture. She then went to Vienna, and shifted her focus to art. From 1982 to 1986 she studied at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, after which she went back to Taiwan and became a professional visual artist.69 Epitaph was presented in a meditative space with an atmosphere of mourning. The work was installed in a detached and U-shaped space, with a plain background and two sidewalls.
A continual 60-minute documentary film, on Mrs Ran Mei-Su (1928-) whose father was executed during the 228 massacre, was projected at the end of the hallway. The film shows images of powerful tidal waves churning the coast of Pa-Tou-Tzu in Keelung, which was one of the places where the bodies were dumped by the KMT during the 228 Incident. Meanwhile, the space is filled with the sounds of breaking waves, evocative of crying and moaning. On the The selection of artists’ works as examples for each chapter is based on how much the works have responded to the issues I have addressed as the main themes for each chapter and the curatorial concepts. Some artists did not create and exhibit their works in relation to the concepts of the shows, rather they simply presented their most well-known pieces.
See Lu, V. (2002), op cit, p 188.
M. Turner, © 2008 left sidewall, written on the surface of sandblasted glass, is the epitaph which is comprised of selected words from Sixty Years of Loneliness (1994) and Sobbing in the Dark Corner (1996), both written by Ran.70 Wu Mali presents the tragedy from the viewpoint of a woman’s experience.
On the right side of the ground glass, she poses the question: ‘[h]is-story has been revised; the rioter may become the hero. What about her story?’71 By asking this question, she criticises the fact that history of the Incident is told as a story of men, in which they became heroes or victims, whilst the women have been ignored and forgotten. The opposite side of the glass shows the words
Epitaph She washed the corpse with tears. After the funeral was over and all the relatives ha[d] gone. She finally burst out crying: God, I’m scared! God, I’m scared! She, burn[ing] everything, never utter[ing] a word about it nor dress[ing] up again. She, clean[ing] herself up and [sitting] at home waiting, prepar[ing] for life and death. She, having been raped and feel[ing] ashamed, [leaving] the kids and [running] away. She, holding several jobs down, ha[ving] 6 kids from a babe to a ten-year old. She, crying all the time, but only in the dark. Fear following her like a shadow.
She, passing the rest of life silenced. She, [a] ‘woman’ in plural form.
Her sorrow has always been ours.72 Epitaph is radical because it seriously criticises the tyranny of the KMT and reveals the hidden history of Taiwanese women in the 228 Incident. Ironically, according to historical documents, the people who were murdered and Ibid. Both of these books were published by Avant-garde publisher.
Ibid., p 10.
Ibid. Also in Wu, Mali. ‘Wu Mali: Profile’, first published in The Journalist Magazine. Taipei, No 5, 5 May 1996, http://web.ukonline.co.uk/n.paradoxa/maliwu.htm, updated 1997, consulted on 7 February 2004.
M. Turner, © 2008 suffered during the 228 Incident were all men, and it is very hard to find any records about Taiwanese women during that time. The first book that covered women’s sorrow and misfortune was titled Women’s 228: the Story of a Political Widow, written by Shen Hsiu-Hua, published by Taiwan Interminds Publishing in 1997. This book records what had been ignored for fifty years, and changes the monolithic and patriarchal viewpoints of Taiwanese history, divulging the voices of the women whose fathers, husbands or brothers died because of the massacre. The book illustrates that it had been forgotten that the Taiwanese women who were left behind to care for themselves and their children were equally traumatised and disadvantaged by the Incident. As citizens with subaltern status, this recognition had previously been denied to them.
Epitaph is also a typical feminist work that insists on including hidden women in the writing of Taiwan’s historiography. This piece is a good example of using text as an essential part of an artwork, a practice which was rarely used by Taiwanese artists before the mid 1990s. The text shown at the left side of the hallway created a scenario which cannot be easily replaced by figurative images and it directly indicates and explains the grievous situation that women suffered during the Incident. On the opposite wall, Wu proposed the question, ‘where is her story?’, which directly and critically challenged the narratives of Taiwan’s history-writing. The method of presenting this piece is minimalist, yet extremely powerful and straightforward.
Wu Mali skilfully uses film, sounds and words to create a sorrowful aura, similar to that of a funeral ceremony, arousing audiences’ sympathy toward those M. Turner, © 2008 people who had suffered or died. Furthermore, the artwork itself is also a memorial to the deceased and the tragedy. After viewing the film, which features waves striking the coast with a continuous and echoing sound, the Taiwanese feminist scholar, Chien Ying-Ying, interpreted this work as symbolic of the fluid in a mother’s womb, which itself continually moves and functions as a healer of pain, imparting memories to the unborn child.73 What this work has contributed is to expose the subaltern women to the public view and to
re-interpretation of history writing is the main concept of subaltern studies, therefore I need to address this term in more detail in the following section.
According to Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, the term, ‘subaltern’ refers to ‘status’, meaning ‘of inferior rank’ referring to those groups in society who are ‘subject to the hegemony of the ruling classes’, which include ‘peasants, workers and other groups denied access to “hegemonic” power’.74 The term, subaltern, has been adopted and adapted by a group of postcolonial scholars who study Indian history with consideration for the lower layer of society. This Subaltern Studies group is led by Ranajit Guha, an Indian historian and political
economist, resident in Australia, and the term is defined by them, as follows:
The word, ‘subaltern’, first of all, has both political and intellectual connotations. Its implied opposite is of course ‘dominant’ or ‘élite’, that is, groups in power, and in the Indian case, classes allied either with the British who held India for 300 years, or with a select number of disciples, Chien, Ying-Ying. Daughters’ Ceremony: Taiwanese Women’s Spirits, Literature and Artistic Representation. Taipei: Fembooks Publisher, 2000, p 192.
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts.
London and New York: Routledge, 2000, p 215.
M. Turner, © 2008 students or epigones who in a sense collaborated with the British.75 The word, subaltern, originally refers to a rank in the British army and has been used by the Subaltern Studies group to indicate the disempowered people in Indian society. The term, subaltern, has regularly been used in the Subaltern Studies group which intends to reconsider Indian history with all aspects of society, including those that have been excluded by the political and economic élitism. Dipesh Chakrabarty argues that ‘Subaltern Studies raised questions about history-writing that made the business of a radical departure from English Marxist historiographical traditions, inescapable’. 76 The Subaltern Studies group aims to re-write its history separated from English Marxist orthodoxy in order to include all groups of people, especially of the bottom class.
Yet Spivak has adapted the word ‘subaltern’ to signify anyone who is disadvantaged in social or political spheres, which do not inevitably have divisions of class. To explain why this term is useful to indicate the status of women, it is appropriate to examine some of Spivak’s words from an interview
conducted at the Duke Centre for Critical Theory in 1987:
I like the word ‘subaltern’ for one reason. It is truly situational.
‘Subaltern’ began as a description of a certain rank in the military. The word was used under censorship by Gramsci: he called Marxism ‘monism’, and was obliged to call the proletarian ‘subaltern’. The word, used under duress, has been transformed into the description of everything that doesn’t fall under strict class analysis. I like that, because it has no Guha, Ranajit and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (eds). Selected Subaltern Studies. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, pp v-vi.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. ‘A Small History of Subaltern Studies’ in Schwarz Ray (eds), op cit, p 468.
M. Turner, © 2008 theoretical rigour.77 Thus, the term, subaltern, can be employed to indicate ‘women and the colonised’, who are not categorised into specific Marxist ‘class-analysis’. 78 The ideas of being subaltern, used in the case of Taiwan in recent history, signify the Taiwanese who experienced the suppression of the Chinese Nationalist government during the Incident and during the period of martial law.
The Taiwanese were regarded as those who did not have any power in terms
Taiwanese women, they experience both what the men have already suffered as inferior to the Chinese Nationalist government, and they still live under the shadow of patriarchal ideology influenced by Han culture.
According to Ranajit Guha, the ‘dominant indigenous group’ includes ‘the biggest feudal magnates, the most important representatives of the industrial and mercantile bourgeoisie and native recruits to the uppermost levels of the bureaucracy’.79 Although Guha’s interpretation of the ‘dominant indigenous group’ refers to the upper class Indians who held the power over the lower class, I have adopted the term to refer to the dominant power of the males in Taiwan’s society as the term describes different distributions of power among ‘indigenous’ people. Regarding the ‘dominant foreign groups’, Guha asserts Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (edited by Sarah Harasym). The Post-colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. London and New York: Routledge, 1990, p 138. Also in Morton, Stephen. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. London and New York: Routledge, 2005, p 46.
Stephen Morton interprets Spivak’s concepts towards ‘subaltern’ and notes that ‘[f]or Spivak the term “subaltern” […] can accommodate social identities and struggles (such as woman and the colonised) that do not fall under the reductive terms of “strict class-analysis”’. Morton, ibid., p 45.
Guha, Ranajit. ‘On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India’ in Chaturvedi, Vinayak (ed). Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial. London and New York: Verso.
2000, p 7.
M. Turner, © 2008 that they included ‘all the non-Indian, that is, mainly British officials of the colonial state and foreign industrialists, merchants, financiers, planters, landlords and missionaries’.80 I suggest that the term can signify the political control of the Chinese Nationalist government. Hence, Taiwanese women, being the disempowered group in the spheres of both male-centred social values (the ‘dominant indigenous group’) and the Chinese Nationalist authoritarianism (the ‘dominant foreign group’), are identified as the subaltern.
In Can the Subaltern Speak?, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak uses the term ‘subaltern’ to describe the colonised object who has no history and cannot ‘speak’. For Spivak, the subaltern does talk but what they say cannot be heard, therefore they do not speak. 81 Thus, Epitaph, memorialising the tragedy, not only makes Taiwanese women ‘talk’ but helps them to ‘speak’.
Epitaph, as an interface, has created the possibility of making the history of disregarded women known by visualising their experience. Most importantly, it has provided the Taiwanese with another perspective, with which they are able to re-examine the past in order to narrate a history closer to the reality.
Despite the fact that the Subaltern Studies group aims to discover the ‘historiography’ of the Indian peasants (read: the subaltern class) in the nineteenth-century, from the narratives written by the élite (both the imperial foreigners and indigenous upper class), 82 it does open a challenging perspective to reveal the silent group of the colonised society. As already Ibid.
See Landry and MacLean (eds), op cit, pp 290-291.
See Guha, Ranajit. ‘On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India’ in Chaturvedi (ed), op cit, and Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. ‘The New Subaltern: a Silent Interview’ in Chaturvedi (ed), ibid., p 331.
M. Turner, © 2008 addressed, Taiwanese women under the control of the Chinese Nationalist government were indeed enduring a form of ‘double colonisation’ (from the colonial past and from Confucian patriarchy), indicating that Taiwanese women were given subaltern status in the discourses of politics and social ideology, especially after the occurrence of the 228 Incident. Epitaph has therefore contributed to the unveiling of the forgotten women in Taiwan’s recent political historiography, through which the concepts of nation should not exclude the voices from women. Through Wu’s Epitaph, women’s experience as objects of political and patriarchal dominance is unveiled.
Lin Pey-Chwen’s piece, Black Wall, Inside and Outside the Window (1997) [fig 14-16] was shown in the gallery space, opposite from Wu’s Epitaph. Lin’s work also unveils the story of women victims during the Incident and is presented in a form of a life-size installation, which is very different from Epitaph. To express her artistic concepts, Lin used ready-made objects, with which she installed a calm and sombre domestic living room. Three sets of aluminium blinds were put on a black wall; one of them was opened fully, another was half opened while the other was completely closed. Behind the blinds, Lin put up fifty reproductions of documents and photographs related to the Incident, which the audience were able to view directly or indirectly by peeking through the gaps of blinds. The photographs used in this work are family photographs of those who lost some of their loved ones in the Incident.