«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
camouflage, mimicry, black skins/white masks’.18 For Bhabha, a sense of hybridity appears when colonisation starts and he does not agree with the argument proposed by Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks (1986). Fanon alleged that ‘[h]owever painful it may be for me to accept this conclusion, I am obliged to state it: [f]or [a] black man, there is only one destiny [a]nd it is white’.19 Although Fanon’s book is acknowledged to be the first publication to have addressed the subject of postcolonialism, postcolonial scholars emerging since the late 1990s, believe that there are no simple states of ‘completely white’ or ‘completely black’ but rather a condition of ‘in-betweenness’ that arises between colonisers and colonised. In order to respond to this argument, I continue to explore some of Bhabha’s discussion in Signs Taken for Wonders.
Firstly, Bhabha suggests that ‘the colonial presence is always ambivalent, split between its appearance as original and authoritative and its articulation as repetition and difference’.20 For Bhabha, the ambivalence existing between the ‘original’ and ‘authoritative’ is the chief mark of the phenomenon of colonisation. Here, ‘original’ refers to the origins and traditions of the colonised, whilst ‘authoritative’ means those which are implanted by the colonisers. The factory buildings erected in these two locations symbolise the colonial presence and the effects of Japanese authority, which signifies the ambivalence that Taiwanese people had felt towards it since colonisation started. The Governor-General of Taiwan introduced Japanese culture, Ibid., p 172.
Fanon, op cit, p 10.
Bhabha (1994), op cit, p 153.
M. Turner, © 2008 language and architecture to the island, in a similar way to that employed by the British to implant Christianity and the English language in India. The factory buildings served as the means by which the Japanese could insert their systems into Taiwan and thereby allowed the Japanese empire to develop the area for economic purposes. As a consequence of colonisation, differences become apparent between the original and the authoritative powers and the resultant hybrid appearance has to be found in order for the colonised object to survive.
People living around the factory buildings established a kind of mimicry in their adaptive form of life style, which was an ambivalent or hybrid condition
adaptations arose in these spaces when the people adjusted their lives and culture in order to survive. For example, they were forced to use Japanese as the official language whilst the Taiwanese language was still used at home or between friends, which resulted in the emergence of a Taiwanese-style Japanese created under colonial control. 21 In appearance, therefore, the Taiwanese mimicked the forms of Japan whilst the essence of being Taiwanese was still preserved while being hidden within their minds. In terms of ambivalence and mimicry, Jacques Lacan asserts in The Four Fundamental
Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1978) that:
Apart from the language, another example of hybridity can be found in the style of local inhabitants’ houses. During Japanese colonisation, the Taiwanese tended to partly adapt the style of Japanese official buildings, known as ‘Tropical Colonial Architecture’. This kind of architecture is itself a form of mimicry of the buildings built by the Dutch in South Asia and it contains a series of pillars and arches. Further information can be found in Lin, Ruei-Tai.
Introduction of Cultural Environment in Kia-A-Thau. Kaohsiung: Kia-A-Thau Cultural Society, 2001, p 50.
M. Turner, © 2008
Mimicry reveals something in so far as it is distinct from what might be called an itself that is behind. The effect of mimicry is camouflage, in the strictly technical sense. It is not a question of harmonizing with the background but, against a mottled background, of being mottled – exactly like the technique of camouflage practised in human warfare.22 For Lacan, mimicry serves to harmonise the self and the other. It is mimicry that harmonises the essence of the original. The buildings of the wine and sugar factories are the buildings erected by the oppressor to dilute the consciousness of being Taiwanese during colonisation. Apart from accepting the presence of the buildings, the people of Taiwan were forced to rely on colonial industry and thus to embrace colonial influences in terms of culture and language, which created a kind of mimicry that harmonised their own ideology with that of the colonisers. In 1945, after Japan unconditionally surrendered at the end of the Second World War, Taiwan was returned to China according to the decision made by the Allies during the Cairo Conference in 1943. After fifty years of colonisation under Japanese imperialism, the Taiwanese had hybridised themselves into a state of Japanese-ness and this displacement was rendered visible by the warehouse buildings.
The factory buildings, as a signifier of colonial power, provided the local inhabitants with a regime governed by regulations and discipline, which transformed the origins of the colonised into a form of hybridity. Following Bhabha’s argument, therefore, the colonised of this region wore a mask composed of mimicry and hybridity. The evidence does not support the Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Jacques-Alain Miller (ed). Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1978, p 99.
M. Turner, © 2008 absolute white-or-black argument proposed by Fanon but testifies instead to a mixture of elements derived from the indigenous local and previous colonial cultures. This phenomenon can be observed in the language, customs, culture and architecture of Taiwan that have been retained since the Japanese period.23 As ‘hybridity’ has already been used as a term to denote the state of cultural presentation deriving from colonisation, I now examine the definitions of this term and how it might be applied to the contemporary Taiwanese social environment. The word ‘hybridity’ is a derivative of the word ‘hybrid’.24 The dictionary definitions of ‘hybrid’ are ‘the offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties’ and ‘a thing made by combining two different elements’. 25 In brief, hybridity results from what is mixed or combined, whether the term is used in biological or figurative senses. The arguments adduced previously indicate that the factory buildings became hybridised with their environment because of the different cultural and political involvements in their regions. The ‘offspring’ which those regions have created is constituted not only by the physical buildings themselves but also the abstract elements made up of language and culture.
In The Location of Culture, Bhabha regularly employs the term ‘hybridity’ and
one of its definitions is that:
[h]ybridity is a problematic of colonial representation and individuation that For more details, see Lin, R. T., op cit.
See Pearsall (ed), op cit, p 695.
M. Turner, © 2008 reverses the effects of the colonialist disavowal, so that other ‘denied’ knowledges enter upon the dominant discourse and estrange the basis of its authority – its rule of recognition.26 Following Bhabha’s argument, the idea of hybridity for the Taiwanese is to bring into play their knowledge of the former power of the Japanese colonisers, from which a sense of recognition of themselves (as subjects) is created. In my view, the re-use of postcolonial buildings for this exhibition estranges the viewers from their previous knowledge of colonial binary orders and creates a new relationship between the present and the past, by which the concept of hybridity appears. I have argued that this show drew its power from the combination of colonial buildings (which have long and complex narratives), contemporary concepts and new interpretations of the meanings of art and belonging. What this signifies is that the show correlates the colonial memory, a sense of national identity and contemporary art aesthetics. Moreover, I am emphasising that the exhibition has demonstrated the fact that Taiwan’s society is indeed experiencing hybridity, in the spheres of culture and ideology.
A new understanding of identity, then, is produced when the solid binary system disappears and when the past authority has been denied. It follows, therefore, that the exhibition is a visualised form of interpretation of the social and political environment.
The re-use of colonial buildings as a strategy for declaring national identity has occurred in several developing cities, including cities in Taiwan, in the post-Second World War era. In his article, Urbanism and the Dominance Equation (1992), Nezar Alsayyad characterises the way in which the colonised Bhabha (1994), op cit, p 162.
M. Turner, © 2008
use colonial ideology and objects by asserting that:
When the people of the dominated, colonised societies started to rebel against this colonial world order (mainly in the first half of the twentieth century), they had little to cling to in their drive to establish their own sovereignty, and they were forced to use the ideology and terms of the existing colonial world, with its baggage of concepts like independence, national identity, and freedom. In the struggle for independence, the dominated people had to envision their new societies based on the terms of their former colonisers.27 The new interpretation of colonial architecture brings developing nations a sense of national identity in cases where the buildings physically represent both their colonial past and the new understanding that they have of themselves. Stuart Hall argues that identity is always blurred by stating that ‘[i]dentity is composed of more than one discourse, as composed always across the silences of the other, as written in and through ambivalence and desire’.28 The use of the factory buildings as the location for the exhibition not only declared the power of Taiwanese women artists’ collective efforts but also became the strategy by which to assert their national identity. According to Hall, identity is a vague concept and through the re-use of colonial buildings, a clearer image of national identity is presented by means of art.
It is widely recognised that people from the developing world are those who have experienced colonisation and who also started to seek their national identity on gaining their independence after the Second World War. The Alsayyad, Nezar. ‘Urbanism and the Dominance Equation’ in Alsayyad, Nezar (ed). Forms
of Dominance: On the Architecture and Urbanism of the Colonial Enterprise. Aldershot:
Avebury, 1992, p 19.
Hall, Stuart. ‘Old and New Identity, Old and New Ethnicities’ in King, A. (ed), op cit, p 49.
M. Turner, © 2008 Taiwanese are categorised in this group. During the post-martial law era, Taiwan has been considering its independence in terms of culture and nationalism and it has succeeded in separating itself from its previous coloniser, Japan. The use of the factory buildings embodies the dilemma confronting the Taiwanese in that they are forced to face their suppressed colonial history, whilst at the same time, coming to terms with their own subjectivity as the former objects of colonial subjugation. Alsayyad further asserts that in ‘much of the “so-called” Third World today, societies are grappling with national identity. They face a dilemma over which parts of their colonial history to appropriate as part of their national identity’.29 The factory buildings of the Hua-Shan Arts District and Kia-A-Thau Art Village symbolise both the invasion by the Japanese colonial power and the determination of the Taiwanese to deny and re-interpret Taiwan’s past in order to find their national identity.
Since martial law was finally repealed in 1987, the Taiwanese have been very eager to construct as many modern buildings as possible, in terms of various physical facilities, in order to cut the ties with the colonial past, and to establish the authenticity and origins of their ethnic and cultural roots. The old buildings are associated with the violence of the imperialists and their re-use challenges
appropriated them in order to ‘operate’ these spaces differently so that the senses and flavours emanating from these buildings are no longer indicative of colonial production but are integrated with Taiwan’s growing economy. In short, the Taiwanese want to reject the psychological imprint inherited from their colonial experience but they wish to embrace its economic and physical Alsayyad, op cit, p 20.
M. Turner, © 2008 legacy.
Bhabha’s description of the colonised man refers to the situation of being hybridised and to the internal turmoil and struggle that arises from being split between the past state of authenticity and the present experience of oppression. This is the process of being hybridised and the disruption of the subject by the other. For the Taiwanese during and after Japanese colonisation, there were hardly any signs of pure Taiwanese tradition, especially in the regions where colonial buildings were erected and colonial economic systems were established. I see this exhibition as a physical manifestation of the notion of hybridity because it encompasses the location of the exhibits in the cross-cultural myth. Whilst Japanese-ness is inevitably an important element of this exhibition, one other interesting phenomenon is worth noting. All of the artists exhibited in this show have chosen Western forms of method to present their works, such as, for example, installation, photo-print and multi-media, which are derived from neither Japanese nor Chinese influences. This reveals the fact that in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, in addition to the previous colonisers, the West has become yet another source of imperial influence on the island.