«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
There have been several art events concerned with modern quilt making and exhibitions in Western (women’s) art history. The Quilt National, the first ongoing biennial exhibition of non-traditional (contemporary) quilts, initiated in America in 1979, was conceived and organised by quilt artists Nancy Crow, Harriet Anderson, Françoise Barnes and Virginia Randles.45 It has become The Quilt National is the brainchild of fibre artist Nancy Crow who was living in Athens in Ohio in the late 1970s. She and Harriet Anderson, Françoise Barnes and Virginia Randles were making quilted objects that featured unfamiliar patterns. These contemporary quilts, as they were called, were not meant to be bedcovers, and they were not welcome at most quilt shows. Crow believed that the world needed an exhibition that would showcase quilts that were designed for walls rather than beds. They then found a dairy barn in Ohio, which had been abandoned for nearly ten years, and transformed it into The Dairy Barn Southeastern Ohio Cultural Arts Centre. This new art centre has become the exhibition space for the Quilt National since then. The Quilt National and The Dairy Barn Southeastern Ohio Cultural Arts Centre have played an important role in the field of modern quilt art. See ‘Quilt National’.
www.quiltnational.com, consulted on 2 February 2005.
M. Turner, © 2008 an important international exhibition of quilts, and attracts many quilt artists across nations; for example, Quilt National 95 drew 1,230 entries from 613 quilt artists from fourteen countries.46 The contemporary quilts have been produced by women of different races and from different cultures since the 1970s and their approaches to create them are different depending on diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
Despite the fact that the creation of Wu’s Spiritual Quilt is around thirty years behind the first contemporary quilt art piece, this work has de-constructed what the Han Chinese and Japanese considered the process of fabric works, i.e.
being private, domestic and ‘inwards’. To summarise, through Spiritual Quilt, what traditional women consider as a burden and as ‘micro space’ has been deconstructed and via a group project of ordinary women, the division of art and craft has, once again, been denied. Furthermore, I argue that Wu’s quilt-making project can itself be regarded as an example of the imposition of Western feminist practice in Taiwan.
The following artworks to be considered were created by Deng Wen-Jen and her works are often produced on a small-scale and with a combination of oil painting and embroidery, which is very different from Wu’s project. Deng started to combine native Taiwanese cultural images and ideas with her oil painting, after returning to Taiwan in 2000, having lived and worked in France for eight years. Deng’s works debate the serious discourses of gender and sexuality, but at the same time most of her works are very decorative, utilising various bright colours, often associated with more trivial works. Deng uses ‘A history of the quilt’, www.hlla.com/reference/artquilt.html, consulted on 31 Oct 2004.
M. Turner, © 2008 cultural symbols such as traditional Chinese words, lotus shoes, a china plate and Taiwanese food totems to imply human sexual desire and to explore Taiwan’s cultural identity. She combines oil painting and embroidery skills to create artworks metaphorical of sexuality. With delicate traditional sewing handiwork and fine oil painting skills, she creates eye-catching food images and also addresses the pleasure of passion and the remembrance of the past.
She showed several works in the exhibition, one of which is titled, A Three-inch Lotus Shoe (2000) [fig 56 and 57]. In A Three-inch Lotus Shoe, a pig’s hoof in a lotus shoe and an aubergine in dark colours is the major subject in the image.
A china plate, originated from the Qing Dynasty, and totems of vegetables as the background are also depicted in the work. The delicate, cell-like images on the shoe echo the ones in the background, although those on the shoe in the foreground are produced by embroidery whilst the background is produced by oil paints. They both show a sense of cheerfulness, decorativeness and carefulness, which are in contradiction to the roughness and casualness of
monochrome china plate forms a sharp hard edge against the background ‘wallpaper’. In summary, Deng skilfully combines embroidery, oil painting, and the contrast of colours to create a powerful image which becomes a perfect example to illustrate how Taiwanese artists’ works have been blended by traditional Taiwanese cultural symbols, Chinese and Western aesthetics.
On the right hand side of the china plate, Deng transcribed a poem, following the style of traditional Chinese ink paintings. It reads ‘Nangang soy sauce;
M. Turner, © 2008 wine-stewed pork chops; delicious aubergines and a hot oven ready to roast’.47 The depiction of ‘stewed pig’s hoof’, the main object in the work, is a popular dish in Taiwanese cuisine, and it is often accompanied by noodles. Both elements of the dish act as a metaphor for the people who eat it as having longevity. Traditionally, Stewed pig’s hoofs with noodles have been served at (especially old) people’s birthday parties in Chinese and Taiwanese societies.
Pig’s hoofs symbolise physical strength as they are the parts that support the weights of pigs’ whole bodies whilst, (long) noodles signify longevity in Chinese/Taiwanese culture. This kind of noodle is also entitled ‘longevity noodles’.
In her work, the pig’s hoof has been replaced by a traditional Lotus shoe for women, which has been decorated with totems of flowers and vegetables. All of the terms in the poem are related to cuisine and cooking, through which Deng provides the audience with the images of food, not only from visual representation but also from the metaphors of the words themselves.
Deng spends a great amount of time stitching every tiny woolly line into the cloth before stitching it onto the canvas, through which the delicacy of traditional women’s embroidery is exposed. A Taiwanese feast in terms of vision and imaginary food is expressed in this work and the combination of the East (an embroidered lotus shoe) and the West (oil painting) presents a form of hybridised contemporary artistic language.
Here, it is worth investigating ‘foot-binding’, a symbol of women’s custom in Translated from the poem in the work. Nangang is a district at the edge of Taipei city.
M. Turner, © 2008 traditional Chinese Han culture, and it indicates Deng’s intention of addressing sexuality. Research has confirmed that foot-binding was introduced to fulfil a male fantasy to turn women into an object of their desires. Before Japan’s colonisation of the island, Taiwanese women were taught to bind their feet as a result of the influence of Han culture. According to Dorothy Ko, foot-binding began to spread in Chinese culture around the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; when girls were five to six years old, their mothers and even grandmothers would start to teach them how to perform food-binding. 48 Historically, between the seventeenth and early twentieth centuries in Taiwan, ‘the smaller the feet you had, the more sexually attractive you became’ was a
expresses not only social expectation towards women’s sexuality but also women’s skills of working with textiles, which received ‘high cultural and economic value in a Confucian society’.49 The shoe for food-binders is called the Lotus shoe and this cultural heritage signifies the influence of Chinese Han influence on the island and the use of the shoe in this work de-constructs the limitations of this old custom.
For Deng, to be both a good cook and an attractive woman are qualities only to satisfy men’s desires. Deng’s works suggest that the smells, colours, tastes and shapes of food have the same sensuous stimuli as those of the woman’s body. With elaborate handiwork, the artist demonstrates the topic of ‘Eat, Drink, Man, Woman’ (Yin Shi Nan Nu), which originally comes from one of the Confucian books, The Principles of Manners (Li Ji) (c. 5th – 6th century BC).50 Ko, op cit, pp 52-58.
See Ko, ibid., p 54.
Deng Wen-Jen chose ‘Eat, Drink, Man, Woman’ as the topic of her solo exhibition at the 26 M. Turner, © 2008 Confucius addresses the idea that ‘there is no difference among people that the desires for food and sex are the same. In addition, the need for both of them is essential for being a human’. In A Three-inch Lotus Shoe, Deng joins these two needs (food and sex) together and demonstrates the necessity of being a human.
Moreover, through the juxtaposition of Chinese embroidery, the metaphor for Taiwanese cuisine and the skills of Western oil paintings, the artist has hybridised three different cultures within her works. It is evident, therefore, that in Deng’s work, Bhabha’s ideas of mimicry and hybridity have appeared.
Apart from A Three-inch Lotus Shoe, Deng exhibited another powerful work, Betel Nut (2003) [fig 58], which also addresses the issues of food and sexuality.
Produced with cloth in bright colours, Betel Nut symbolises a kind of popular ‘snack’, but it also indirectly implies sexual desire, mainly for the working-class male in Taiwan. Betel Nut illustrates how the betel nut (also known as Taiwanese chewing-gum) looks: an opened nut with a dark green shell and with seeds around the core. The four pink corners around the nut are like the wrapping paper, with which the ‘betel nut girls’ (binlang hsishi) wrap and sell betel nuts from their roadside booths. The betel nut booths are usually built as glass boxes, decorated with neon lights and are often located by main roads at the edge of city centre or in the countryside, where they are predominantly patronised by lorry drivers and other working men [fig 59 and fig 60].
Galleria d’Arte in Taiwan from 1 to 30 December 2004. It is also worth noting that this term was also adopted by Ang Lee as the title of his 1994 film of the same name, produced in Taipei.
M. Turner, © 2008 The betel nut booths are usually attended by young women who literally just wear underwear or bikinis, allowing most of their bodies be exposed to the public. According to Huang Wan-Tran’s report in the Taipei Times, this particular aspect of the sex industry initially appeared in Guoxing township, Nantou County, in the late 1960s and has been popular with male customers since then.51 This modern sex industry was established via betel nut booths and it is now generally perceived by most Taiwanese that those who buy betel nuts are people who intend to enjoy a prolonged close ‘gaze’ at the girls rather than to simply buy the nuts. The artist has used acrylic to paint the dark shadow under the core element of the work as the nut itself signifies a woman’s sexual organ rather than food, i.e. the product they sell is ‘sex’ rather than ‘nuts’. Moreover, the bright colours of the artwork echo the colours of red-light areas where the sex industry is located. Once again, Deng has selected the ‘betel nut’ to address the issues of sexuality and the female body.
The issues of body and sexuality will be argued in more detail in the following chapter on the Taipei Biennial 1996 but here I would like to investigate how Taiwan’s cultural symbols (stewed pig’ hooves and betel nuts), traditional embroidery skills (as a colonial heritage) and western aesthetics, are hybridised in Deng’s works. Even though in the previous chapter, I have addressed the concept of ‘hybridity’, I need to emphasise this point in detail when analysing Deng’s works.
Ien Ang gives ‘hybridity’ a simple definition by stating that:
Huang, Wan-Tran. ‘Why Pick on Betel-Nut Beauties?’ in Taipei Times, Taipei, Monday, 12 March 2007, p 8.
M. Turner, © 2008 Hybridity – simply defined, the production of things composed of elements of different or incongruous kind – instigates the emergence of new, combinatory identities, not the mere assertion of old, given identities, as would seem to be the case in ultimately essentialist formulations of identity politics […].52 According to Ang, hybridity is composed of different elements and if using Deng’s works as an example, ‘hybridity’ is shown through the composition of Taiwanese food totems, the Chinese (Han) lotus shoe, colonial embroidery influences and western oil painting. It is interesting to note that even after living and working in France for eight years, Deng finds her major artistic language from her homeland – Taiwan. When investigating her works, I can find historical, colonial and current western impacts on the island, and all of these differences are visualised in her works. Ang further argues that hybridity should ‘live with and through’ difference rather than ‘overcome’ it.53 Ang’s words have clearly indicated Taiwan’s current social environment, which echoes how Deng’s works are formulated, i.e. to embrace differences rather than to conquer them. From Deng’s works, I emphasise the significance of the fact that different influences have been joined together to create a new appearance and the existence of various cultural impacts on the island are equally integrated.
Deng’s art has promoted traditional embroidery works to the level of contemporary fine art and has visualised the hybridised Taiwan’s current social and artistic environment, which is the existence of old and new, East and West.
Ang, op cit, p 194.
M. Turner, © 2008 However, some artists choose to embrace a completely Western style in their
methods and metaphors that artists adapt to create their works have indicated the fact that in Taiwan’s society, there exists a generation gap which reflects not only on the different ideologies of different generations, but also on the different methods with which artists present their works. To make this point further, I would like to consider Shen Fang-Jung and her work, The Starfish Series (2003) [fig 61]. Having been born in 1980, Shen was the youngest artist participating in the show and her work indicates the younger generation’s involvement in fabric artistic creation.