«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
Freud’s approach to gender by stating that:
The differences that [Freud] identified reflected the echo[e]s of nineteenth century Europe – women were by nature more passive than men and thus Siann, Gerda. Gender, Sex and Sexuality: Contemporary Psychological Perspectives.
London: Taylor & Francis, 1994, p 3.
The description is given by Gerda Siann. Ibid., p 7.
M. Turner, © 2008 less well suited to life outside the family circle. Men, on the other hand, were by nature active and more suited to dealing with the world outside the family.56 Even though I do not agree with Siann’s arguments above, her analyses outline the stereotypical divisions of differences among men and women.
Women have different characteristics from men, which are developed not only by social expectations of gender (according to Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex) but also as a result of human nature (Freud’s arguments).
There is ‘normalised’ femininity in women’s works and Pomero’s works reveal this characteristic, which can be seen in Quietly Exsanguinate and Steam-side.
These works reveal a sense of beauty and elegance, which is at variance with the sense of struggle and pain that is evident in the work of some feminist artists in the West. The artists who participated in this show did not express the suffering of women in their subaltern status in an ‘ugly’ way but simply and gently exposed women’s strength and ability to transform colonial architecture for their aesthetic and political purposes. The women artists’ involvement in these spaces led them to create objects which respond to the environmental and historical atmosphere and at the same time express their ideas of womanliness, based on an essential understanding of gender differences.
Pomero uses objects and installation to indicate femininity, whilst Chou Wen-Li (the next artist to be discussed) uses the skills of photography to represent women’s bodies, by which Chou mainly focuses on the themes of body and senses.
Chou exhibited a photographic print, Visual Taste [fig 44] which was one of Ibid.
M. Turner, © 2008 only two two-dimensional works in the show. In her artist’s statement, Chou argued that ‘when transforming the senses of smell and taste into a form of sight, one creates a series of imagination and fantasy on which people can gaze to fulfil their desire’.57 For the artist, seeing a woman’s body was like tasting sweet and sour flavours, the tastes of which reminded her of the image of women’s breasts. The breasts depicted in the printed photograph are shown in pink, in contrast to the dark background, and the nipples are covered with coloured squares. The way in which the photograph was taken was similar to the effect of an X-ray and was shown in a long horizontal piece of paper. Chou’s use of these images alludes to the fact that women have been regarded as objects to be seen and watched.
The method of Chou’s work responded to the challenge issued by the feminist artists of the 1970s, who intended to reclaim female bodies for women by representing them in their works. Chou claimed that enjoying sweet and sour flavours is similar to viewing women’s breasts. Feminist artists who have used the body as the medium for announcing their feminist arguments include Hannah Wilke with her poses and performances for the camera (S.O.S.
Starification Object Series, 1974-1982) and Cindy Sherman’s performances of deconstructing women’s bodies (Complete Untitled Film Stills, 1977-1980).
Chou’s intention to unveil women’s breasts during the exhibition deconstructed the idea that ‘the nude is for pornography’. The praise for women’s breasts responded to Joanna Frueh’s statements in The Body through Women’s Eyes (1994) that ‘[f]eminist artists transformed the female nude, and in so doing Kia-A-Thau Cultural Society, op cit, p 43.
M. Turner, © 2008 became “cunt-positive”’.58 For the artist, presenting breasts is done not only to transform women’s bodies into the subject but also to connect people’s sense of taste with vision. Since this exhibition is about a women’s gathering, the idea of using a sensitive topic from a woman’s body is to respond to the curatorial nature of this show and to visualise Chou’s imagining having the tastes of sweet and sour flavours. As I have addressed in the Introduction, people living in a more rural area (i.e. Kia-A-Thau) are more conservative than those in the cities, so this piece is the interface through which Chou challenges the traditional perception of a woman’s body. By enlarging the size of the breasts, the intention to deconstruct the viewers’ discernment of a woman’s body is conducted. The breasts shown in an indirect way in this piece become the means by which Chou refashions the audience’s views towards a woman’s body and what can be identified as art instead of pornography.
Ultimately, this work creates complex conditions of mixed feelings, which can be described in a Chinese proverb, Suan Tian Ku La (sour, sweet, bitter and spicy).
The other artist who used a photographic print as her medium is the curator, Chang Hui-Lan. In Kia-A-Thau Sugar Factory in the Hua-Shan Winery [fig 45 and fig 46], Chang showed a photograph of the Sugar Factory in the Hua-Shan Winery, in which she tried to juxtapose one space with another in a single image in order to stimulate the audience’s sense of humour. In her statement, Chang proposed that ‘the photography linked the two spaces and caught the frozen moment at one space which was presented at the other by the skill of Frueh, Joanna. ‘The Body through women’s Eyes’ in Broude, Norma and Mary D Garrard (eds). The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact.
New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc, Publisher, 1994, p 192.
M. Turner, © 2008 photography. The frozen and “dead” moment therefore became alive’.59 Her present involvement in the old spaces inspired the artist to make a light-hearted contrast between the two locations. For Chang, heavy and serious deliberations about colonial history were not the motif of her work. On the contrary, she intended to make works simply about the physical objects, i.e.
the factory buildings themselves. For Chang, her response to the idea of ‘connection’ was to present one space inside the other, playing with the colonial spaces for the sake of fun and joy. Furthermore, she inverted the real situation by showing an image of the wine factory inside the sugar factory.
Postcoloniality, Gender and Visual Art Valerie Jaudon and Joyce Kozloff state that ‘[r]acist and sexist attitudes characterise the same mentality. They sometimes appear in the same passage and are unconsciously paired’. Taiwanese women have experienced both racism and sexism, and sexual discrimination is still deeply rooted in many people’s values and lives. However, bearing in mind that, as Virginia Woolf pointed out, ‘[o]ne cannot grow fine flowers in a thin soil’,61 it is clear that the subalternate status of Taiwanese women’s global situation has enriched their essential characteristics and therefore their artistic presentation.
In other words, it is apparent that their complicated history has in fact provided a rich and fertile artistic scene, rather than a barren one, as might have been imagined. It is evident that the exhibition, Sweet and Sour Yeast, has de-constructed Taiwan’s colonial history by using buildings established by its Kia-A-Thau Cultural Society, op cit, p 40.
Valerie Jaudon and Joyce Kozloff, ‘Art Hysterical Notions of Progress and Culture’ in Robinson (ed), op cit, p 173.
Woolf, Virginia. Women and Writing. London: Women’s Press, 1979, p 54. Also cited in Minha, Trinh T. (1989), op cit, p 7.
M. Turner, © 2008 colonisers. In addition, the gathering of women artists demonstrated the fact that women, although considered to be the subaltern part and fulfilling subordinate roles in Taiwanese society, can essentially use their differences to develop their own identity. ‘Sweet and sour yeast’ therefore denotes not only the food ingredients physically used in these factories but serves as an important symbolic agent for the Taiwanese to seek their gender and national identities.
In this exhibition, sensory experiences provided the interface for Taiwanese women artists to address gender identities and this inspired me to explore the discourses of their political and historical arguments via visual art. With the increasing influence of globalisation on the island, the desire to seek a Taiwanese identity has become even more critical. The show, Sweet and Sour Yeast, is an attempt to configure Taiwan’s identity strategically by re-interpreting colonial buildings and, although this was not a specific intention of the curatorial project, it did reflect Taiwan’s desire to seek its own identity, especially in the globalised world environment. Taiwanese women artists living and working in this society at this time needed to re-consider their locations in terms of traditional and modern values and pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times. The priorities and projects that occupy curators and artists confronting the twenty-first century have become to a large extent exhibitions such as this one, which was concerned with postcolonial and feminist themes in order to bring these issues from marginalised locations, to the attention of the wider artistic and academic community.
As already addressed, this show was organised specifically to promote the M. Turner, © 2008 new art space, the Kia-A-Thau Art Village, and therefore the reactions from the local communities in the Kia-A-Thau region and the after-event responses to this project are worth investigating. After the occurrence of Sweet and Sour Yeast, several exhibitions and events were immediately organised, following the method of adopting its cultural heritage (i.e. the former sugary industry) as the means to develop its unique local characteristics. These events include the selection of the artists-in-residence scheme between late 2001 and 2002, the Art Festival of Air Raid Shelters in Kia-A-Thau in March 2002 [fig 47 and fig 48] and the 2nd World Art Collective (performance festival) in April 2002 [fig 49-51].62 After the staging of Sweet and Sour Yeast, the various cultural events, mentioned above, themselves resemble the power of yeast, connecting with each other in order to present a sense of local identity through cultural
Kia-A-Thau, the succession of cultural events have been held with enthusiastic support from the local communities, evidence of which can be seen from the local inhabitants’ active engagement with the events, in terms of visiting the exhibitions, participating in the performances and workshops, all of which are free and fully sponsored by the local government, the Kia-A-Thau Cultural Society and the Council for Cultural Affairs in Taiwan. The avid involvement in the cultural events in this area demonstrates local people’s consciousness for cherishing this unique colonial heritage from the Japanese period, which has The artist-in-residence scheme later became an ongoing project which invites artists to live and work in the Kia-A-Thau Art Village. For more information regarding this scheme and the other two events mentioned in the text, see Kia-A-Thau Cultural Society. Special Volume for Events at the Kia-A-Thau Art Village. Exh. Cat., Kaohsiung, 2002.
M. Turner, © 2008 developed into a kind of local identity. Indeed, Sweet and Sour Yeast acts as an agent that motivates a new interpretation of local people’s identity in terms of how they see their position in the physical colonial environment.
Furthermore, I demonstrate that contemporary Taiwanese culture can be viewed via the re-consideration of physical colonial space and that Taiwanese presence is hybridised between colonial heritage and contemporary ideology, which can even be seen in a local community, such as Kia-A-Thau.
M. Turner, © 2008 Micro Space: BuBaoFu (2003) In this chapter, I address the notion that ‘fabric’, as a valid material, is being politicised as a modern artistic material for contemporary Taiwanese women artists. It has only recently been explored by contemporary Taiwanese women artists and recognised by Taiwanese art critics and art historians.
However, whilst fabric art, an aspect of colonial heritage from both the Chinese Han and Japanese colonisation, has been practiced on the island for hundreds of years, this particular medium was only first used as a curatorial theme for a women’s group exhibition held at a government-funded gallery as recently as
2003.1 The show was entitled, BuBaoFu, curated by Lin Ping and was held at the alternative space, Stock 20, which dates from the 1930s. It was built during the Japanese colonial period and was originally a warehouse used to store goods at the Taichung railway station [fig 52 and fig 53].2 Having addressed the impact of Japan’s colonisation on visual presentation in the previous chapter, I should investigate how fabric art utilises a cultural heritage in a way that hybridises Taiwanese women’s artistic creation. The concepts of this chapter follow the route mapped-out in the previous chapter, to address the ambivalence of contemporary Taiwanese culture and art hybridised by its colonial history. In this chapter, the colonial subjectivity includes Chinese Han and later Japanese fabric heritage, both of which Before the show BuBaoFu was held in May 2003, there were several group and solo exhibitions, which were also organised based on the use of the material, fabric, but BuBaoFu was the first event that combined the issue of gender and fabric as a curatorial theme.
For further details regarding this space, see the database of the National Cultural and Arts Foundation, http://www.ncafroc.org.tw/news/index_news.asp?ser_no=197, consulted on 10 April 2007.
M. Turner, © 2008 become key elements contributing to the diversity of contemporary Taiwanese women’s art practice, and to the development of Taiwan’s cultural identity.
Before analysing BuBaoFu, I explore how the concept of femininity has been re-positioned in fabric art in contemporary Western art, from which I have found comparisons between the development of Taiwanese and Western women’s fabric art. Furthermore, I explore the relationship between fabric and femininity, and the concepts of ‘micro space’, proposed by Lin to indicate ‘women’s domestic space’.
Colonial Heritage and Fabric Art