«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
In front of the black wall, a black acrylic board was laid on the floor, with one of its sharp angles vertically against the wall. The two main black objects, the wall and the acrylic board, form a sense of tension in the installed domestic space, a space which is normally considered to be calm and peaceful. The M. Turner, © 2008 flower arrangement, made of silver metal, laying on the board, strengthens this kind of uneasiness as if something unusual and peculiar has happened or is going to happen.
The reproductions of the Incident hidden behind the blinds provide the audience with documents of the bloody history that Lin intends to be viewed through this piece. With brown stains and marks deliberately added by Lin, the reproductions illustrate a sense of passing of time and history. Different from Epitaph, Lin uses historical documents to directly narrate the history rather than by showing the film of the scene where bodies were disposed of, which indicated the tragedy indirectly. A more straightforward method of exposing the hidden history is adopted in this work. The silver aluminium of the blinds and metal of the artificial flowers produced a sense of coldness surrounding this piece. The sharp edges between the pale-coloured floor, the black wall and acrylic board seem like cuts or wounds, making a sharp impression on viewers’ eyes and minds.
The concept of subaltern-ness in Lin’s work refers to the wives and children of those men who sacrificed their lives during the Incident. Lin proposes that after being known as the victims, how can the subaltern endure the pain of being watched by society and being reminded of the death of their families.
The photographs hidden behind the blinds fill all of the space within the frames, creating a large window scene that is open to be viewed by the audience. The exposed, semi-exposed and hidden photographs represent the struggle of those women who are in a state of limbo; whether, or to what degree, they can stand to let their stories be discovered by the visitors and shown in public. By M. Turner, © 2008 exploring these two works, I am arguing that visual art imagines society and also creates the ideology of the public. Both Wu and Lin’s works expose the subaltern part of Taiwan’s narratives and they re-shape what the Taiwanese have ignored in their history-writing, through which the subaltern both talks and speaks.
Cultural Representation and Reconstruction No cultural identity is produced out of thin air. It is produced out of those historical experiences, those cultural traditions, those lost and marginal languages, those marginal experiences, those peoples and histories which remain unwritten. Those are the specific roots of identity. On the other hand, identity itself is not the rediscovery of them, but what they as cultural resources allow a people to produce. Identity is not in the past to be found, but in the future to be constructed.83 According to Stuart Hall’s words cited above, identity is based on how we construct the future rather than what we have found in history. Therefore, identity is not a fixed concept and is changed by how we interpret the past and the viewpoints, with which we examine history. When trying to identify the position and culture of nation and gender, Taiwanese women have been recalling the past, which might no longer represent the history but rather a history they have re-fabricated instead. As identity is ‘in the future to be constructed’, when looking back at the 228 Incident and Taiwan’s history of immigration, we should consider how to interpret Lee’s concepts of ‘New Taiwanese’, only through which, a wise and broad-viewed understanding of Taiwan’s presence and identities will appear with respect for differences and Hall, Stuart. ‘The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity’ in King, A. (ed), op cit, p 14.
M. Turner, © 2008 ethnic minorities in Taiwan’s society.
Additionally, I emphasise that The 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition held in 1997 was organised fifty years after the Incident took place. As it was the second exhibition on this subject officially held at the Fine Art Museum of Taipei, it is evident that the city government intended to utilise exhibitions to arouse the consciousness of the public in order to re-examine the history of the island.
There were a series of other events held to strengthen the concepts of the show and to encourage the general public to be involved in the exhibition.
These events included seminars, tours and talks led by artists and the families of the victims, through which this exhibition diluted the distance between the audience and the exhibited artworks.
It is also worth noting that after Chen Sheui-Bian lost the election for Taipei city mayor in 1998, which resulted in the suspension of the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition held in the FAMT, the Chia-Yi city government organised the next
2.28 Commemorative Exhibition, entitled Chia-Yi 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition, in 2000. The show was curated to fulfil the expectation of memorialising the tragedy in South Taiwan, which is considered to have more supporters for the DPP than the KMT than in the North of the island. In 2002 and 2003, 2.28 Commemorative Exhibitions were organised by the Foundation of Ocean Taiwan (FOT) and held in Taipei city and in I-Lan county, whilst in 2005, the show, International Exhibition for the 228 Incident: Longing, Yearning, Where Am I, was also organised by the FOT and shown in the Kaohsiung M. Turner, © 2008 Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of I-Lan History.84 Consequently, I suggest that the record of history diverges depending on how it is documented. Moreover, what will be written and maintained in history changes with different sentiments of gender, politics and social status. Sté phane Corcuff asserts that ‘[i]t is probably legitimate to say that no history textbook can be objective, as objectivity in history does not exist’.85 Therefore, when investigating the Incident, we need to be aware that what has been written in history may be just a part of the whole, thus, the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition provides the Taiwanese with a hidden view of history and unveils what has hitherto been unseen. National identity and cultural presentation in Taiwan are based not only on the politically and socially privileged but also on those who are at the margin, the less advantaged and the ethnic and cultural minorities.
Robert Young argues that women’s struggles cannot be viewed simply via
national politics by stating that:
The nature of women’s struggles, often conducted from positions of extreme marginality outside the space of national politics, means that their history cannot be written or understood in the same way as conventional anti-imperialism, and requires different archival techniques.86 Therefore, the main theoretical consideration in my research is postcolonial Li, Chin-Hsien. ‘2.28 Commemorative Exhibition’ in the Encyclopaedia of Taiwan, http://taipedia.cca.gov.tw/Entry/EntryDetail.aspx?EntryId=20538, updated on 13 June 2006, consulted on 19 February 2007.
Corcuff, Stéphane. ‘Conclusion’ in Corcuff (ed), op cit, p 249.
Young, R. (2001), op cit, p 361.
M. Turner, © 2008 feminism, which I see most importantly as the theory that rediscovers the marginal and respects the differences of gender, culture, ethnicity and class.
It is also the theory that helps us to understand our environment more thoroughly, to re-fashion an identity based on broader perspectives and finally to look into the current climate of diversity and plurality. Through presenting the concealed history of the 228 Incident by the means of artworks, a new understanding of the Taiwanese themselves as a community is being generated. Re-discovering the 228 tragedy through the show aims to open a dialogue between different groups of Taiwanese, in order to dilute the misunderstanding and hatred in their society. Women, who are considered inferior in Taiwan’s patriarchal society, have therefore had the chance to be discovered through this specifically curated show, through which the re-interpretation of Taiwan’s history is being formulated. This situation has also mirrored Taiwan’s constantly changing ideology of national identity.
Women artists continually construct a historical narrative by means of their art creation which responds to what Edmondson has demonstrated, which is that the process of interpretation of the Incident and building national identity has never ended.87 Hence, under the process of ‘nation-building’, women artists have contributed to visualise the essential but disregarded part of Taiwan’s history-writing, and to elucidate the intrinsic nature of Taiwanese identities from the complexity of its colonial past. Finally, I argue that the impact of this exhibition can be seen in Lords of the Rim: in Herself/ for Herself (1997-1998), an exhibition which was held soon after the end of the second 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition, and which parallels the themes concerned with Edmondson asserts that ‘[t]he February 28 Incident continues to be variously interpreted and accounted for as the people of Taiwan assume the powerful agency of historical narrative production in the always unfinished process of nation-building’. Edmondson, op cit, p 42.
M. Turner, © 2008 exposing hidden women’s voices in history.
M. Turner, © 2008
Economic History and Hidden Women:
Lords of the Rim: in Herself/ for Herself (1997-1998) Sinjhuang is a very special place. When I knew [visited] this place the first time, I felt that it was a typical industrial town where inhabitants live with factories, where electricity poles are alongside commercial neon signs and where various kinds of shops are mixed up together. […] I saw all sorts of electronic and mechanical raw materials, handiworks, and semi-finished products, all of which I had never seen in my life.
Furthermore, with the chaotic spreading of people’s houses, factories and warehouses, I started to realise that Sinjhuang is like the origin of the economic power in the past thirty or forty years in Taiwan.1 The above statement is cited from Chang Yuan-Chien, the curator of the exhibition Lords of the Rim: in Herself/ for Herself, held at the Sinjhuang Cultural Art Centre in Taipei county. Chang describes how she has been astonished by the views of streets and the living environment in Sinjhuang, which is famous for its textile industry and is located outside of the Taipei metropolis. The chaos and disorder in the landscape of Sinjhuang indicate a typical industrial town in Taiwan. Being one of the major textile export industrial areas in Taiwan, Sinjhuang has a large population of women who make up the labour force, as textile production is traditionally considered to be women’s work in the male-centred society. According to Wang Shih-Chih’s research, during Taiwan’s key period of industrialisation between the 1960s and the 1980s, three quarters of the labour force in textiles were women.2 Chang, Yuan-Chien. ‘Lords of the Rim: in Herself/ for Herself’ in Artist, No 272, January 1998, p 338.
Wang argues that during Taiwan’s industrialisation between 1966 and 1981, women made M. Turner, © 2008 Those women mainly working in Taiwan’s export-oriented economy during the past fifty years are globally considered to be cheap labourers and as people of the developing world. These women, seen as disadvantaged and being subalterns in the social and political structure, have greatly contributed to the boost to Taiwan’s economy since as early as 1960s until the mid 1990s when China and South Asia began to provide a cheaper global labour market than Taiwan.3 In this chapter, I shift my focus from the relationship between women and nation, to investigating how industrialisation has influenced women’s lives in Taiwan in the past several decades. The exhibition I am examining was held at the Sinjhuang Cultural Art Centre, which is situated in an area known for its textile industry and associated with the women’s labour force [fig 17 and fig 18].
The significant part here is that it is women who contribute the major share of the labour for what is an export-oriented economy. I initially argue the political consideration of Taiwan’s economic development and how its women’s labour force became an essential input, contributing to the development of Taiwan’s ‘economic miracle’ (Jing Ji Qi Ji).4 I then investigate the concepts of Subaltern, up to 75 % of the labour force in the textile industry. Wang, Shih-Chih. Capitalism, Patriarchy & Women Workers in Textiles: The Case of Taiwan. MA thesis. Taiwan: National Chung Cheng University Institute of Labour Studies, 1997, p 13. Pinpointing the beginning of Taiwan’s industrialisation is problematic as other historians propose that it starts from the early 1950s.
For example, Murray Rubinstein asserts that ‘[t]he first stage of Taiwan’s dramatic economic transformation took place from the early 1950s to the early 1960s’. See Rubinstein, Murray A.
‘Taiwan’s Socioeconomic Modernisation, 1971-1996’ in Rubinstein (ed), op cit, p 367.
The dates, referring to the period when the women’s labour force started to contribute significantly to Taiwan’s economy, are cited from Yen Shiang-Luan, ‘Analysis of Genders in Labour Forces in Taiwan, 1951-1994’ in Journal of Labour Studies, No 5, 1996, pp 147-175.
According to Yen’s research, there are three periods of Taiwanese industrialisation:
Pre-industrialisation (1951-1965), Industrialisation (1966-1981) and Post-industrialisation (1982-1994). The women’s labour force played an important role in the textiles industry during these periods.
The term, ‘economic miracle’ (Jing Ji Qi Ji), has become a kind of cliché to describe Taiwan’s rapid economic growth in the past several decades. It has been widely used in schoolbooks, journal articles, newspapers, and everyday conversations and even on television programmes.
M. Turner, © 2008 with comparison to the issue of women of the developing world, which apply to these working-class women in Taiwan. An investigation of the exhibition is conducted in order to research how fine artists reflect those women’s lives through the means of visual art and how the issues of being marginal are revealed through this exhibition.