«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
Introduction This thesis examines selected exhibitions and artists’ works, through which I explore questions related to Taiwanese women’s art at the intersections of Taiwanese culture, history, economy and social classes in the post-martial law period, starting in 1987. In this thesis, I aim to explore the particular perspectives that women (artists), cast as the inferior part of Taiwanese patriarchal society, have contributed to the multiple observations of Taiwanese culture. Additionally, I intend to identify whether women’s art exhibitions enable us to question women’s particular contribution to visualising the concepts and impact of diverse Taiwanese identities. Finally, I aim ultimately to show how the attributes of Taiwan’s contemporary culture are manifested through these selected exhibitions.
In this research, through women’s visual art exhibitions, I am interested in analysing the intersectional conditions and contradictory nature of Taiwanese culture and identities. Taiwanese culture does not have a fixed identity;
rather it is composed of shifting and complicated ideas, which keep negotiating their positions with each other. Rather, Taiwanese culture consists of mixed-up identities, which are always in the process of making, hybridising and constructing. The presence of Taiwanese society is at all times questioning the old and new colonial heritage and ideologies, including concepts introduced by diasporic groups, who have been trained in higher educational institutions in the West. Every element from the old/the new, East/West, Aboriginal Taiwanese/Chinese Hans and even different social M. Turner, © 2008 classes are mixed into multiple conditions, which cannot be identified with specific terms or definitions. The conditions of uncertainty, unpredictability, variability and changeability, are what I see as the shifting identities in Taiwan.
I propose that art exhibitions serve as a physical interface that identifies the multiple ideas of Taiwanese identities. The curatorial themes of the exhibitions are intended to permit viewers to examine the artistic and cultural environment and how they affect each other. In addition, I agree with Dorothee Richter’s suggestion that ‘[e]xhibitions can be described as communicative situations that are produced in order to convey content’.1 For Richter, the exhibition is a tool for communicating about situations and subject matter embedded in society. Therefore, I propose that one of the methods to observe women’s changing roles and identities in Taiwan is to conduct analyses of exhibitions, through which I visualise the hybridised Taiwanese culture.
I demonstrate that exhibitions are the physical manifestation of an interpretation of contemporary Taiwanese culture, which is developed since the 1990s. Moreover, exhibitions, as visual presentations, produce the appearance of society and participate in creating a national and global identity.2 Hence, I further propose that one of the ways to perceive a nation’s culture is through the investigation of specific exhibitions. Exhibitions invite critical responses and debates, which sometimes strengthen the arguments Richter, Dorothee. ‘A Feminist Perspective on Exhibition Display and Education in Curatorial Practice’ in n.paradoxa, Vol 18, 2006, p 75.
This point will be argued in more detail in Chapter 1 and Chapter 5, where the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition (1997) and the Taipei Biennial 1996 are addressed.
especially those that are curated with specific topics, have provided me with themes relevant to my exploration of particular research questions. Most importantly, specific locations for exhibitions have demonstrated a distinct political focus for the shows, whilst at the same time, the involvement of regional communities offers different critical perspectives. 4 Exhibitions provide opportunities to consider more than one artist within the same curatorial theme, providing an overall observation of diverse artistic presentations, and allowing the development of a stronger analysis.
Additionally, different artists’ educational backgrounds are shown when comparing works produced by several artists at the same time. Finally, the organisation of some selected shows indicate the power of women’s
exhibitions, as the result of complex artistic, intellectual, political, educational and community involvement, offer a varied collection of evidence.
My research is conducted with a multidisciplinary approach and moves between the boundaries of economics, politics, history, gender studies, cultural studies and the visual art happening in contemporary Taiwanese society. At this point, it is essential to note that James Elkins has observed Here, I need to address the fact that the concepts of ‘curators’ firstly appeared in Taiwan’s artistic field in the mid 1990s and since then it has become an influential issue in Taiwan.
Regarding when the ideas of ‘curators’ started to be adapted in Taiwan’s public museums, Lin Ping asserts that ‘[it started] from the visiting of the well-known Japanese curator, Fumio Nanjo, to Taiwan in 1995 and also when the Taipei Fine Arts Museum initially participated in the Venice Biennial in 1995’. She further indicates that ‘from the late 1990s, exhibition projects gradually started to be conducted by “independent curators” in Taiwan’. For full details, see Lin, Ping ‘Curator’s Halo – the Long and Winding Road of Curatorial Business in Taiwan’ in Li, Ji-Ming (ed). Special Edition of Taiwan’s Contemporary Art. Taipei: Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2005, pp 213-236.
This point can be observed in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.
M. Turner, © 2008 and argued that art history, as a field, may disappear. He remarks that ‘[t]he notion of interdisciplinarity has already been augmented by transdisciplinarity and subdisiciplinarity […] art history might deliquesce, leaving only traces of its former sense of methods and objects’. 5 Hence, when investigating contemporary art history, it is inevitable that scholars should explore multiple disciplines in order to develop a more comprehensive discernment of current issues. My research is driven by a triangular relationship, consisting of theory, culture and art, in which each element influences the other two. As my focus is on gender and the ambivalent and hybridised society of Taiwan, I have chosen specific postcolonial and feminist theories to study the issues
in-betweenness and ambivalence) was initially proposed by Homi Bhabha and the term has been regularly used to describe cultures that have been influenced by colonisation. 6 The theories and themes I have adopted include nation/ nationalism, identity/ belonging, gender politics, hybridity/ in-betweenness, industrialisation/ women’s labour force, globalisation/ westernisation/ urbanisation, and cyberfeminism/ cyberspace, all of which are questions that are acutely relevant to Taiwan’s postcolonial environment.
Each of the selected exhibitions engages with issues of gender as a central concern. However, not all of them address postcoloniality indirectly. It is important therefore that this thesis aims to investigate exhibitions not only through the lens of sexuality but also through an understanding of Elkins, James. ‘On David Summers’s Real Spaces’ in Elkins, James (ed). Is Art History Global? New York and London: Routledge, 2007, p 63.
I explore the terms, hybridity, in-betweenness and ambivalence, throughout this thesis;
however, in Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, I specifically argue how they become the key concepts in Taiwanese women’s art practice.
M. Turner, © 2008 postcolonialism. 7 In other words, the curators had the intention to link Taiwanese women’s art with the discourse of gender and it is my contribution and ambition to investigate the shows further through an understanding of postcolonial feminism. I am demonstrating that the most important part of Taiwanese women’s art is not only the debate about gender, but that it also presents and visualises the hybridity of the culture and women’s lives.
Specifically, my research concerns Taiwanese women in the spheres of history, politics, global and local economies, virtual space and the global art world. Essentially, by interpreting some exhibitions which are hybridised in terms of their appearances and concepts, I intend to debate the ideas of westernisation 8 which have largely dominated the scene of contemporary fine art practice in Taiwan, and which were originally introduced by Taiwanese who were trained in, or currently inhabit, the West.9 My thesis aims to investigate how Taiwanese women’s shows relate to the self-recognition of Taiwan’s racial/ethnic identity, culture and gender.
Therefore, I propose two research questions, as follows: first I wonder how Taiwanese women’s art exhibitions can visualise the new expression of Taiwan’s contemporary art practice, due to the complexity of its colonial history; secondly, I am interested in how these shows can demonstrate women’s roles at the post-martial law era, especially in the intersections of Taiwan’s culture, history, economy and social classes.
Only the exhibitions analysed in Part I were organised to examine women’s issues beyond the discourses of gender. The other shows were curated merely on the topic of gender, especially based on the first-wave and second-wave feminism formulated in the West.
The West, in this thesis, refers to Western Europe and North America.
In the show, BuBaoFu, addressed in Chapter 4, I have specifically selected works created by two artists, who demonstrate different perspectives when creating their art. I address the question of Westernisation when comparing their works.
M. Turner, © 2008 This introduction provides an historical, social and theoretical framework for my thesis. After detailing the structure of the chapters with reference to specific theoretical concerns for each exhibition, I explore a brief history of Taiwan and the Taiwanese women’s social movement, followed by some arguments surrounding the impact of Confucian patriarchal ideology, and how it has influenced Taiwanese values. Finally, I introduce some of the terms of postcolonial and feminist literature, which serve as the key concepts underpinning my work.
Structure of Chapters Before martial law was suspended in 1987, Taiwan’s artistic field was conservative and controlled by the Chinese Nationalist government (the Kuomingtang, or KMT).10 There were few exhibitions and limited events for artists, let alone for women artists. Importantly, after martial law was lifted,
women artists include Tseng Shai-Shu (1952-), Victoria Lu (1952-), Lai Chu-Chu (1953-), Fu Chia-Hui (1953-), Yen Ming-Hui (1956-), Huaeh Pao-Hsia (1956-), Wu Mali (1957-), Hou Yi-Jen (1958-), Lin Pey-Chwen (1959-), Hsieh Hung-Chun (1961-) and so on. Apart from the change of political climate, Victoria Lu indicates another reason that encouraged women artists to return home was the boost of economical development in Taiwan since the early 1980s. Additionally, since then, there were not only women artists returning home to contribute their knowledge received abroad, but I will investigate the change in the political climate and the shift of history in Taiwan in the later part of this Introduction, as well as in the first chapter.
M. Turner, © 2008 many women in the fields of film, dance, theatre, art history, art administration and art therapy who had also gone back to Taiwan after their studies in the West. However, most of the exhibitions from the late 1980s and the early 1990s were simply intended to heighten the visibility of Taiwanese women’s artists’ collaboration.11 In other words, women’s exhibitions, held since the lifting of martial law in 1987, came about as a result of women’s cooperation but without curatorial concepts or discussions, concerning gender and/or national identity.
It was not until the mid 1990s that women’s exhibitions were curated with a clearer concept. Since I cannot investigate all contemporary Taiwanese women’s art exhibitions during the post-martial law era, I have only selected some exhibitions (especially those with explicit connections to the relationship between women, nation and culture) as a representative example for this research.12 The method used for choosing exhibitions for inclusion in this research is that they need to have been held in recognised spaces and that they need to have been theme-specific with associated curatorial statements.
For full details, see Lu, Victoria. History of (Contemporary) Taiwan Women Artists 1945-2002. Taipei: Artist Publisher, 2002, pp 106-117.
Women’s shows held between 1987 and the mid 1990s include Women’s Ceramic Arts (Howard Salon, Taipei, 1987), Melody of Spring: Group Exhibition of Women’s Arts (Jih Cheng Gallery, Taipei, 1989), Taiwan Women’s Artists’ Week (Chern Piin Gallery, Taipei, 1990), Taiwan Contemporary Women Artists Show (Lung-Men Art Gallery, Taipei, 1991), Women & I (Dimensions Art Centre, Taipei, 1991), Women-Women Paintings (Jih Cheng Gallery, Taipei, 1991), Women Artists (Chun-Yung Art Centre, Taipei, 1993), Shapes and
Arts of Women Artists (Taipei Home Gallery, 1993), End of Century:
Abstract Paintings of Taiwan Women Artists (Hsiung-Shih Gallery, Taipei, 1994), Water (Dragon Gallery, Kaohsiung, 1994), Power of Women’s Creation (Hsin-Sheng-Tai Art Space, Tainan, 1994) and Taiwan Women Cultural Observation (Hsin-Sheng-Tai Art space, Tainan, 1995). The research of Taiwanese women’s exhibitions held in the early/mid 1990s can be seen in Wang, Jin-Hua. Aesthetics and Politics of Gender: An Initial Study and Criticism of the Taiwanese Women’s Art Exhibition in the 1990s. MA Dissertation. Taiwan: Tainan National University of the Arts The Graduate Institute of Art History and Art Criticism, 1999, pp 14-28 and Chen, Elsa. ‘Reading Feminist Dimensions of Contemporary Art in Taiwan’ in Huangfu, Binghui (ed). Text & Subtext: International Contemporary Asian Woman Artists Exhibition.
Exh. Cat., Singapore: Earl Lu Gallery, 2000, pp 75-88.