«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
Her large-scaled work, The Starfish Series, an installation shown in the ceiling space, connected other works shown on the wall and the floor, bringing together all the artistic works as a whole piece according to the curator’s concept of the exhibition. The audiences could walk easily around the exhibition and look at the works which were carefully installed in the space.
Having been born in the 1980s, Shen describes herself as having had no significant experience of sexual and social pressures, therefore, for her, ‘fabric’ is merely a choice of material which doesn’t carry any other metaphorical significance.54 The implications of using fabric are very different from those women artists who were born into older generations, (such as Wu Mali and Deng Wen-Jen) because the younger artists have grown up in the time following the suspension of martial law, and when globalisation and Shen, Fang-Jung. The Penetration of Flexibility – out of Studio: Artworks by Shen Fang-Jung. MA Dissertation. Hsinchu: National Hsinchu University of Education, 2006, p 11.
M. Turner, © 2008 multiculturalism have changed Taiwan’s landscape and environment. Her work, The Starfish Series, with its shape similar to nerve endings and being made with colourful elastic nylon cloth, are highly decorative and like the properties of the fabric itself, it is flexible enough to be installed in any part of the exhibition space.
Shen selects completely western forms to present her art, which conceals her Taiwanese past. It is interesting to discuss both of their works together as they perceive themselves and their art so differently. By juxtaposing their works, I have observed that under the vast western influence of the post-martial law era, Taiwanese artists either determine to hybridise what they have gained from the past with new knowledge from the West, or to be completely Westernised in order to show their ‘internationalised-ness’ and ‘new appearance’ in contrast to their previous history. Through two different (political) strategies of approach to the international art world, Taiwanese artists have developed diverse routes to confront the future: one is like Deng’s route, to hybridise the past and present; the other is like Shen who thoroughly adopts/adapts Western-ness to demonstrate her new-ness and separation from the colonial history.
Fabric, as viewed by different generations, can be explained from various perspectives. The attitude of younger Taiwanese women artists has been much more light-hearted; sometimes they are like young children, having fun and talking amongst themselves. With the rapid change of the social and cultural environment in Taiwan, multiple expressions of artistic works have been shown simultaneously, as the diversity of artistic languages also mirrors M. Turner, © 2008 the social phenomenon in Taiwan, i.e. changing and without a definite ending.
Thus, fabric, being an artistic material, has been used by different artists and through various methods to demonstrate Taiwan’s contemporary culture and position in the world.
Another Form of Hybridity No one today is purely one thing. […] Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. […] Survival in fact is about the connections between things.55 I conclude this chapter by looking at Edward Said’s powerful words, which indicate the fact that people are connecting differences in order to survive and to develop their own identity and culture. Said has argued that no one today is exclusively one thing, thus for the Taiwanese, they are not simply Han, Japanese or Westernised but they are a kind of hybridised version of all of these elements. The Taiwanese, therefore, find their cultural identity from various elements of colonial heritage, and through contemporary fabric artistic creation, they find a method of ‘survival’ in terms of art and culture. Therefore, I propose that Deng Wen-Jen’s works are the ones that most closely parallel the concepts of Said, and demonstrate postcolonial scholars’ theories of hybridity and mimicry. That is, Deng has contributed the nature of Taiwan’s hybridised culture to the global art world and has created the hybridity of what Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto & Windus, 1993, pp 407-408.
M. Turner, © 2008 she perceives Taiwan to be. However, Shen simply participates in the contemporary art world without any critical consideration of her own difference from the rest of the artists in the globe. Therefore, according to Said’s argument that ‘no one today is purely one thing’ (I see ‘one thing’ as one cultural influence), I suggest that when confronting the globalised world, only artworks that have diverse and explicit cultural and ethnic characteristics will be remembered and cherished.
To emphasise this point, I am giving an example of one recent Taiwanese exhibition, Taiwan: Betel Nut Beauties, held at the Centre Culturel de Taiwan à Paris between 6 March and 2 April 2008. The exhibition, sponsored and organised by the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts and the Council for Cultural Affairs, Taiwan, exhibits works created by six Taiwanese artists, including Den.
According to the Centre’s newsletter, this exhibition was curated specifically to manifest Taiwan’s unique culture regarding the betel nut industry and aims to visualise Taiwan’s differences through the means of exhibitions. 56 The curation of this show demonstrates the fact that only when a nation can view its own unique culture with appreciation and is aware of how to promote its different characteristics, can it survive in the competitive global art market.
Clearly, artists like Deng, are those who know how to combine and hybridise their special cultural symbols and modern aesthetics, through which their works can be cherished and recognised internationally.
In my previous chapter, I looked at how colonial buildings can become a physical manifestation to address Taiwanese cultural identity and in this Newsletter of the Centre Culturel de Taiwan à Paris, dated 7th February 2008.
M. Turner, © 2008 chapter, fabric art is the means for me to address the same issue, owing to the fact that fabric is also an element of heritage from the colonial past. Apart from the political discourse behind this exhibition, I would like to go back to re-examine the curator’s concept of micro space and its relationship with women artists.
From Spiritual Quilt, to The Starfish Series, argued in this chapter, Taiwanese women artists have expanded the idea of ‘micro space’. The indoor (micro-spaced) activity in the past has been explored through the means of the exhibition and the political metaphors given to the works. Fabric works have therefore been promoted from being ‘craft’ to being ‘fine art’. The other important observation in the show is that women artists from different generations have different perspectives from which to create fabric artworks.
Hence, fabric, as an artistic medium, has been utilised as a political means and has erased the traditional division of nei/wai and indoors/outdoors. ‘Micro space’ is therefore being explored and broadened and it is not just limited within handbags or domestic space. In other words, I am ultimately demonstrating that ‘micro space’ can actually be enlarged to express women’s identity and that women’s contemporary fabric art is the visual presentation of hybridity of being Taiwanese, a mixture of colonial heritage (fabric) and contemporary aesthetics.
To conclude this chapter, I should stress that this show actually follows the spirits of the Wan Bu Studio as a community project, because Lin Ping also organised a workshop for making handbags on the opening day of the exhibition (3 May 2003). By arranging this workshop, Lin brought together not M. Turner, © 2008 only the artists who participated in the debates surrounding ‘micro Space’, but also the general public who experienced the journey of how to expand the concepts of nei and domesticity, to wai and publicity through producing fabric art. The curatorial ideas of the exhibition were both to exhibit established artists’ works and also to create the opportunity for the audience (whether young, old, men or women) to engage with producing fabric works, through which the concepts of ‘micro space’ were certainly enlarged during the realisation of the exhibition.
The next themes to be considered in my research are sexuality and body, which have been suggested when looking at Deng’s works and which have been used as a part of the curatorial themes in the first Taipei Biennial, held in
1996. In the following chapter, my focus will shift from colonial heritage to the discourse of globalisation as it is essential to explore how current urban development has influenced women’s artistic creation and how ‘sexuality’ and ‘body’ became the topic of the exhibition.
M. Turner, © 2008 PART III: International Perspectives Globalisation and Urban Culture: Taipei Biennial 1996 We must [also] accept that, in our century, the balance has shifted. The ratio of what is settled to what has travelled has changed everywhere.
Ideas, objects, and people from ‘outside’ are now more – and more obviously – present than they have ever been.1 To begin this chapter, I have quoted Anthony Appiah from his Foreword to Globalization and Its Discontents (1998), expressing the fact that we are living in a mutating world where things keep travelling, shifting and influencing each other; essentially this is the phenomenon of globalisation. Since the late twentieth century, the improvements in everything from transportation to wireless connections have helped people in most parts of the world travel and communicate in a much easier way. As a result, people, objects and ideas are transferred much more quickly and the relative distance between every individual has become much smaller. Therefore, the world seems to have become one whereby the centre and the periphery connect and rely on each other much more than before. The Asia-Pacific region used to be outside of the centre of the world economy and culture, and it is only recently that it has gained the world’s attention, mainly as a result of its rapid economic development and the influence of globalisation. Thus, the Asia-Pacific region has increasingly received attention because of its growing economic power and its emerging artistic creation.
The Asia-Pacific region, under the trend of globalisation in the past few Appiah, K. Anthony. ‘Foreword’ in Sassen, Saskia. Globalisation and Its Discontents. New York: The New Press, 1998, Foreword.
M. Turner, © 2008 decades, has seen its major cities, which serve as business hubs for their nations, transform rapidly to upgrade themselves to become developed areas.
Cities in this region have been gathering their nations’ most important resources, whilst they endeavour to create their own character through the information and fashions that have been moving between geopolitical territories. Whilst globalisation and urbanism are changing the landscape in the Asia-Pacific region, there exists a competition among nations whereby they are all striving to show their individuality under these global trends. Hence, the competition can be seen in the areas of economic and military development, through to the arts and culture, as these provide the main lenses through which nations can be viewed. Large-scale international exhibitions have, therefore, been organised under this kind of ideology and since 1996, the Taipei Biennial has been organised to respond to this trend insofar as it exists in Taiwan.
Kim Hong-hee, an important Korean curator and the Artistic Director of the Gwangju Biennale 2006, asserted in her paper at the 94th College Art Association Annual Conference that ‘international biennials arose in order to serve as a new impetus from the conceptual background of third world discourses and post-colonialism’. 2 Apart from cultural presentation and competition, the Taipei Biennial is also arranged as a governmental strategy to seek to construct a Taiwanese national identity separated from its colonial past. With the increase of capitalism and urbanism, one of the postcolonial issues is to search for specific realities and identities in the developing world, Kim, Hong-hee. ‘The 6th Gwangju Biennale 2006 from the Perspectives of “Shift of Centre”’, conference paper. College Art Association 94th Annual Conference, 22-25 February 2006, Boston MA, USA.
M. Turner, © 2008 and Taiwan has been included in this since the 1990s. Therefore, the theme Quest for Identity was chosen for the first Taipei Biennial because this had been the major topic of discourse for the Taiwanese in the post-martial law era.
The theme also covered the identity of gender and it was the first exhibition in the history of Taiwan’s art that overtly drew attention to gender issues.3 Under the influence of these world trends, the biennial was thus arranged not only to reflect the government’s cultural policy but also the issues of gender which were addressed through the specific curatorial themes.
As it underwent the processes of globalisation and urbanisation, Taiwan experienced its ‘economic miracle’ in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Its speedy growth has brought about an increase in the number of middle-class women, many of whom wanted to create a new way of life, which would be superior to and go beyond their previous state of subordination by men.
Accordingly, many women have changed their personal appearance in order to make themselves look like one of the élite and they have even re-assessed their own positions when comparing those of Western women. Therefore, feminists, especially middle-class feminists, are now re-thinking their status and also considering how to combine and re-interpret traditional ideas, which are deeply rooted and have hardly changed in Taiwanese society over hundreds of years. The changes in society and women’s awakening since the late 1980s have contributed to the creation of the first women’s exhibition concerning feminist issues.