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«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»

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As already explained in the introduction, Wang Jin-Hua suggests that the Taipei Biennial 1996 was the first exhibition held in an official space in Taiwan to include gender as a curatorial theme. In addition, Wang indicates that this show ‘brought many debates on the politics of body, which had never happened in Taiwan’s artistic field before’. Wang, J. H., op cit, p 6.

M. Turner, © 2008 In this chapter, I am dealing with the first Taipei Biennial held in 1996, looking specifically at how this exhibition was arranged and presented. The main heading of the Taipei Biennial 1996 was ‘The Quest for Identity’. Under this title, four themed categories were curated, namely ‘Identity & Memories’, ‘Visual Dialogue’, ‘Our Environment & City Life’ and ‘Sexuality & Power’. The curator of ‘Identity & Memories’, Tsai Hung-Ming, demonstrated the link between identity, the interpretation of memory, history and art. ‘Visual Dialogue’, curated by Lee Jiun-Shian, addressed the ways in which artists combined their materials and concepts to create ‘Taiwanese art’. The curator of ‘Our Environment & City Life’, Lu Kuang, demonstrated the relationship

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Sexuality & Power, was curated by a male curator, Shieh Tung-Shan, and this show was the first to bring gender issues into a public space.4 Eight women artists participated in this category to express their views of gender and its main arguments, centred on the body. As a result, through this category, Shieh challenged our ways of contemplating the body and its roles as both an object and a subject. By looking at Sexuality & Power, the focus was placed on Taiwanese women’s approaches to re-interpreting themselves and to re-examining their roles under the influences of globalisation and urbanism.

This chapter begins with a discussion of the effects of globalisation and urbanism in the Asia-Pacific region and the reasons why the biennials have become important events in the region. I then examine the category Sexuality Regarding the information of each category in the exhibition, see Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

Taipei Biennial 1996: the Quest for Identity. Exh. Cat., Taipei, 1996.

M. Turner, © 2008 & Power by looking at women artists’ works. In addition, I specifically explore the means by which Taiwanese women have reacted to this global trend and how women artists have expressed their opinions in terms of art, and finally how women artists have visualised the intersectional nature of contemporary Taiwanese culture.

Globalisation and Urbanisation There are several definitions of globalisation, similar to those applied to the term, postcolonialism, but one particular perspective is surely related to Marxism and neo-Marxist theories of development and under-development which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s.5 According to this line of thinking, globalisation sets out to combine all aspects of the world together, to erase each nation’s boundaries and to achieve a worldwide free exchange of goods, information and ideology. Roland Robertson, in describing globalisation, states that ‘as a concept [it] refers both to the compression of the world and the

–  –  –

therefore acts to integrate the ideas and nations of the world into a unified whole.

Having exerted an increasing economic influence on the West in recent decades, the Asia-Pacific region has had a tendency towards globalisation in terms, for example, of its governmental systems, social values and popular cultures. Apart from this, globalisation has also accentuated a trend towards This is discussed by Dean Forbes in his essay ‘Globalisation, postcolonialism and new representations of the Pacific Asian metropolis’ in Olds, Kris, Philip F. Kelly, Lily Kong, Henry Wai-Chung Yeung and Peter Dicken (eds). Globalisation and the Asia-Pacific: Contested Territories. London and New York: Routledge, 1999, p 239.

Robertson, Roland. Globalisation, Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage, 1992, p 8.

M. Turner, © 2008 urbanisation in the region, under which some places are prioritised for progress whilst others are ignored. During the 1980s and 1990s, many cities have developed in the Asia-Pacific region and as a consequence its population has shifted mainly to those areas. Some figures serve to illustrate this vertiginous phenomenon. In 1970, the Asia-Pacific region counted only eight cities of more than five million inhabitants but today there are more than thirty.

Among the most populous cities are Bangkok, New Delhi, Calcutta, Seoul, Jakarta, Osaka-Kobe, Manila, Bombay, Madras and Karachi, each of them

–  –  –

population of fifteen million and there are twenty million people living in Shanghai.7 As a result, the Asian-Pacific metropolises, combining most of the nations’ populations and resources, are at the centre of the region’s globalisation process. Taipei, being the capital of Taiwan, has therefore been in the spotlight of the Taiwanese government’s policy and has been the major recipient in the distribution of social resources.

Whilst globalisation, urbanisation and the explosive expansion of urban spaces have been the most dynamic and challenging issues in the Asia-Pacific region today, modernisation and cultural re-interpretation are also taking place at a rapid speed. In this region, a new understanding and new models of modernisation have been experienced and people, including artists, have been finding their own voices to negotiate this phenomenon. In the 1980s, 1990s and today, the rapid and sustained pace of economic and political growth in four countries in the Asia-Pacific region has resulted in them being referred to as the ‘Asian Dragons’. These four dragons (Singapore, Hong See Cities of Asia, http://whc.unesco.org/events/asiaciti.htm, consulted on 29 March 2006.





M. Turner, © 2008 Kong, South Korea and Taiwan) have forced a major re-think to be undertaken on the subjects of modernisation and development. Consequently, under the influence of globalisation and urbanism, many people from these nations are moving around the globe, crossing borders and propagating new ideas, languages and cultures which have been juxtaposed and hybridised in local areas. Jen Webb makes the following observation regarding nations in the

globalised environment:

This, the blending of foreign and local to make a new form, is evident in the contemporary work of artists who are rarely just local, national or global in their approach, but who manifest the effects of a two- or multi-way traffic in the flow of cultural ideas and images.8 Under globalisation, things have therefore been changing in the Asia-Pacific region; i.e. old cultural forms have been replaced or reinterpreted and new forms of cultures and values have been produced. This has had the effect of imposing pressures on artists but also of stimulating them to create new art.

Webb also suggests that ‘artworks can act as “vehicles of social meaning” which both represent and realise “the world”, and as a corollary can confirm (or deny) the stories of nationhood’.9 Apart from this, a distinctive body of art can contribute to the identification of nationhood. Moreover, art can be used as a tool to promote images of a nation and art also represents the manner in which artists expose themselves to the world. Those works of art which have been selected for exhibition to the world reveal the most common forms of consciousness in a nation, or they are strategically arranged to express a

Webb, Jen. ‘Art in a Globalised State’ in Turner, Caroline (ed). Art and Social Change:

Contemporary Art in Asia and the Pacific. Canberra: Pandanus Books, 2005, p 42.

Ibid., p 30.

M. Turner, © 2008 nation’s image of itself.

Under globalisation, modernisation and urbanism, the traditional forms which have survived have been forced to change to fit into modern ideology, as frequently happens in the postcolonial world. As Arif Dirlik notes, ‘the release of post-coloniality from the fixity of [the] Third-World location means that the identity of the post-colonial is no longer structural but discursive’.10 Identity issues in this region have become complicated and plural while information and ideas are moving across boundaries. Therefore, identity can be seen in the discourses of nationhood, gender, culture, religion and ethnicity. Thus, I am emphasising the significance of the fact that, as one of the main issues in the developing areas, identity has played an important role in globalisation ideology. Postcolonial discourses resonate with concerns of identity in order to transform the origins of their locations in the world and to re-fashion the conception of its tradition in the developing world. Through globalisation, postcolonial discourses have been increasingly conducted in the Asia-Pacific region and binary oppositions, such as those between coloniser/colonised and centre/margin, have become controversial. Artists in this region have joined together in order to de-construct the long-established values and positions by organising artistic events. Hence, the phenomena of biennials and triennials have arisen.

Since artistic events can function as one of a nation’s strategies for raising issues and attracting the attention of the public, international exhibitions in the Dirlik, Arif, ‘The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism’, Critical Inquiry, Vol 20, Winter 1994, p 332, also cited by Hoogvelt, op cit, p 168.

M. Turner, © 2008 Asia-Pacific region have been very active in this way and have developed

–  –  –

conference paper, Kim Hong-hee argued that ‘it can thus be understood as a natural phenomenon that non-Western countries in the postcolonial period should have sought for a re-arrangement of the hierarchy in the world’s art and culture by setting up new biennales’.11 In this way, biennials serve not only as an artistic event but also as the means for nations to express their identity and strength.

In recent years, there have been several biennials and triennials held in the Asia Pacific region, including the Busan Biennale (Korea, 1981-), Fukuoka Triennial (Japan, 1999-), Guangzhou Triennial (China, 2002-), Gwangju Biennale (Korea, 1995-), Hong Kong Art Biennale (Hong Kong, 1975-), Shanghai Biennale (China, 1996-), Singapore Biennale (Singapore, 2006-), Taipei Biennale (Taiwan, 1996-) and the Triennial of Chinese Contemporary Art (China, 2002-).12 They have created a kind of event that is specific to the Asia-Pacific region. The rapid expansion of international exhibitions in this region has reflected the radical transformation of contemporary Asian art and even the characteristics of their traditions. These exhibitions also appear to be the arena in which competition in the contemporary art scene is played out among nations. As one of the important indications of nationhood is the recognition accorded to the identity of its art and culture, many governments in the region have set up funds and organisations to arrange their international biennials and triennials. For example, the first Singapore Biennale 2006 was Kim, op cit.

See ‘The List of Important Contemporary Biennales, Triennials and Exhibitions in the World’, http://www.taipei1212.blogspot.com/2004/12/blog-post.html, consulted on 17 August 2007 M. Turner, © 2008 provided with a generous budget of over 2 million US dollars.13 In Taipei, when Chen Sheui-Bian was elected as the mayor of Taipei city in 1996, he established many institutions and events to promote the consciousness of a localised Taiwan (one of the Democratic Progressive Party’s chief political ideas, in opposition to its rival, the KMT party). As a result, the Taipei Biennial 1996, with a theme entitled, The Quest for Identity, was an example of his political concepts, and a fund from the Taipei city government was set up to support this exhibition. The 1996 Taipei Biennial, as an official event, had significantly directed the artistic environment in Taiwan and from that year, a yearning for identity has become the main philosophy for artists, curators, museums and critics to work towards. I suggest that this show was a conjunction of current international globalised trends, a promotion of the cultural image of the Taipei metropolis, the awakening of Taiwanese identity consciousness and the artists’ presentation and experiments in the postcolonial and post-martial law period.

The Quest for Identity: Power & Body The biennial exhibitions have contributed some of the major shows held by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum since 1984. These have included the Contemporary Sculpture in the ROC [Republic of China] Exhibition (1985-1991), Contemporary Art Trends in the ROC (1984-1986) and Modern Arts New Prospects Exhibition (1988-1994). In 1992, these shows were combined to form one major show, which was entitled the Contemporary Art Biennial Choy, Lee Weng. ‘Barely Alive: Funding for Independent Art in Singapore’ in Art Asia Pacific, No 47, Winter 2006, p 26.

M. Turner, © 2008 Exhibition. 14 In 1996, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum replaced its previous competition-led shows with a themed exhibition and it started to invite artists to respond. One part of the biennials’ missions was to introduce Taiwanese artists’ works to the rest of the world and also to promote their artistic representation of contemporary practices. Consequently, one of the strategies was to fill the Taipei Fine Arts Museum’s space with the works of as many artists as possible. Thus, one hundred and twenty artists were invited to join the Taipei Biennial 1996 and their works were shown in most of the exhibition spaces in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

This chapter aims to examine how, through the first Taipei Biennial, Taiwanese women artists have searched for their gender identity, and I will address this fact by looking in detail at the category Sexuality & Power. However, before investigating this category, I need to clarify the main term, identity, which was used to designate the whole exhibition with the purpose of exploring the curatorial concepts.



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