«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
It was not until 1994 that Broadcast and Television Laws were abolished and since then, programmes in the Taiwanese language, concerning politics and social discussions were legally allowed in society. From 1995 or 1996, all sorts of voices were able to be heard and society started to pay attention to more aspects of groups of people in Taiwan.42 Apart from several essential publications on feminism and the grassroots associations related to gender, which mushroomed within a short period of time, social transformation on gender issues was initially brought into the public realm.43 Feminists were essentially looking at the social and cultural
Reframing Women (1995), Hilary Robinson addresses the binary relations
existing between men and women:
See Hou, Yi-Jen. Power of Women’s Creation. Taiwan: Hsin-Sheng-Tai Art Space, 1994, p 77.
Wang, Y., op cit, pp 230-231.
It is important to note that since the mid 1990s, there have been more and more discussions about gender in Taiwan’s society. It is not only because of the lifting of the Broadcast and Television Laws but also because of several influential books on gender issues being published, including Report of Taiwanese Women’s Living Conditions: 1995 (China Times Publishing, 2005), Feminist Theories and Trends (Fembook Publisher, 1996), Women, Nation and Caretakers (Fembook Publisher, 1997), etc. Additionally, with the increasing number of higher-educated women returning to Taiwan from abroad (mainly from the US), several women’s associations, both grassroots institutions and educational units, were established to change the unequal situation of Taiwanese women. See Wang, Y., ibid, pp 169-257.
M. Turner, © 2008
Binary positions have been mapped onto each other, leading to ever-increasing polarity, with the male/rational/mind/culture axis claiming supremacy over that which it can then call ‘Other’ and relegate to subordinate and marginal positions: the female/emotional/body/nature axis.44 In this statement, women’s characteristics are clearly confirmed. Whatever their race, class or age, women tend to be regarded indiscriminately by men as ‘Other’. Mary Kelly argues that ‘the specific contribution of feminists [in the field of performance] has been to pose the question on the construction not of the individual but of the sexed subject’.45 Therefore, ‘sexed’ has been the main focus of discourse in feminist discussion and ‘others/object’ is used for
clearly proposed the question of identity, both with regard to gender and body;
moreover, ‘body’ has been chosen by several Western women artists as the theme to express their views when creating art.
The woman’s body, being an object of male artists’ preoccupation, has been central to Western and Eastern art history. As has been widely discussed, women have always been the object of nude and erotic art, created by both the Old Masters (all men) and modern men’s pornography magazines, whilst men have always been those who have painted and gazed at naked women and dominated the art markets. In Chinese art history, although most women in ancient paintings were not depicted in the nude, they needed to be very slim, engaged in some form of handicraft or shown within a natural setting to conform to men’s standards of female beauty. In the East and West, women Robinson, op cit, p 535.
Kelly, Mary. Imaging Desire. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 1996, p 95.
M. Turner, © 2008 have been objects in art history in various ways. In Sexuality & Power, the work of one male artist, Hou Chun-Ming, explores the suffering of men whose women have abandoned them following the awakening of feminist consciousness. His work attracted much public attention as it criticised feminism, which conflicted with the perspectives argued by Shieh and most other women artists. Nevertheless, Hou’s work provided a different space for the audience to consider positions for each gender in the mid 1990s. In his work New Paradise (1996) [fig 74 and fig 75], Hou uses woodblock prints to produce images of women and men accompanied by some statements of his viewpoints. In New Paradise, he states that men and women were originally created by God to be a complete unit but women cut the link between them and left in order to search for independence. The statement shown beside the
images claims that:
No one can interrupt and no matter how much it costs, women are going to fight for their equal rights. Losing the love of the vagina, even a strong man cannot tolerate this kind of pain. Women, however, luckily got a penis from men and became stronger.46 The way in which Hou presents this work is an example of how men considered feminists in Taiwan in the mid 1990s. In other words, they were
deliberate or not that Hou exhibited this work to smear the image of feminists, he and Shieh had created a dialogue with the public to consider to what extent feminism could be accepted in Taiwanese society.
The statements are written in the artist’s woodblock print.
M. Turner, © 2008 Moira Gatens describes the ways in which women, who dare to let their different voices be heard, are treated in society, and it is interesting to cite her
words at some length:
In our relatively recent history, the strategies for silencing those who have dared to speak in another voice, of another reason and another ethic, are instructive. Here I will mention two strategies that seem to be dominant in the history of feminist interventions. The first is to ‘animalise’ the speaker, the second, to reduce her to her ‘sex’. Women who step outside
their allotted place in the body politic are frequently abused with terms like:
harpy, virago, vixen, bitch, shrew; terms that make it clear that if she attempts to speak from the political body, about the political body, her speech is not recognised as human speech.47 Hou’s work expresses this kind of male anxiety when women start to be conscious of their freedom and voice. The evidence suggests that in the mid 1990s, Taiwanese men could not accept and tolerate the growing feminist ideology when they were confronted with the new appearances and values of women. As all of the curators in each category in the Taipei Biennial 1996 were male, I argue that in the mid 1990s, the Taiwanese artistic field was still male-dominated although they had shown their willingness to embrace Western feminist ideas by curating a show with concepts of gender. The result, in the mid 1990s, was that a male curator’s approach to devising a feminist exhibition was not as complete as he had planned.48 Lisa Tickner states that ‘Living in a female body is different from looking at it, as a man.
Gatens, Moira. ‘Corporeal Representation in/and the Body Politic’ in Conboy et al (eds), op cit, p 84.
Here, I need to explain that I do not mean that male curators cannot organise feminist shows.
Exhibitions will only be directed and curated in a more mature way when society has become liberal enough to accept the feminists’ intentions and to cooperate with them.
M. Turner, © 2008 Even the Venus of Urbino menstruated, as women know and men forget’.49 The decision, therefore, to engage Shieh as the curator for the category, Sexuality & Power, confirms the fact that the Taiwanese artistic community was still at the early stage of developing feminism in the mid 1990s.
In my view, the category Sexuality & Power served as an important starting point for women artists to consider their artistic creation, how to demonstrate their political views as feminist artists and how to adapt their works to visualise the social and cultural surroundings in the mid 1990s. With the increasing influence of globalisation, the re-interpretation of Westernisation and traditions and the change in women’s social/political classes in Taiwanese society, a broader understanding for women to create and express their art and attitudes has come into being. It seems to be ushering in a new age when women can finally overcome their traditional absence from Taiwan’s art history.
Identity Within Globalisation With rapid social change and the surge in economic growth, the Taiwanese should endeavour to re-position those aspects of their ethnic and cultural inheritance which are authentic and local, to avoid being culturally colonised once again by the trends of globalisation and Westernisation. In describing Taiwanese society, Kurt Brereton states that ‘the very idea of a single Taiwan is an abject fiction or utopian ideal [that] falls far short of the political and social reality of what being on the island means today’.50 In short, the ideas of Tickner, Lisa. ‘The Body Politic: Female Sexuality and Women Artists Since 1970’ in Betterton, Rosemary (ed). Looking on Images of Femininity in the Visual Arts and Media.
London: Pandora, 1987, p 238.
Brereton, op cit, p 62.
consequence of this fact, the efforts of re-considering and visualising what can be viewed as hybridised and transformed Taiwanese culture and identities, is a task for contemporary Taiwanese artists to work towards.
The Taipei Biennial 1996 was the first official exhibition to announce the demand for identity at a time when the Taipei government had grasped the fact that one of the most important issues for societies in the Asian-Pacific countries to consider seriously, when confronting globalisation, was the quest for their own identity, individuality and national culture. Terence Chong shows that, according to the British political theorist Anthony Smith, some of the characteristics needed for the development of a sense of national culture and belonging are the existence of social ties in the form of shared belief and myths of ancestry; a sense of common history and destiny; shared language and religion; identification with a specific geographical territory, all of which allows societies to form an ethnic [identity].51 Given that Taiwan’s political identity is vague, one way of promoting Taiwan’s image as a sovereign state is to organise major artistic and cultural events, such as the Taipei Biennial. They permit themes such as national and cultural belonging and shared memories and history to be presented. Hence, I am emphasising that art is a gentle but strong tool, which engenders both curators’ and artists’ concepts about society and it gradually affects the viewers’ ideology locally, nationally and globally. The Taipei Biennial, is the means Chong, op cit, p 29.
M. Turner, © 2008 which utilises the idea that Taiwan, as an autonomous unit and community, is capable of expressing its people’s sense of belonging and identity. The Taipei Biennial has thus become an agent for embodying the government’s strategy for confronting globalisation and the changing world situation.
Before I conclude this chapter, I suggest that Sexuality & Power was arranged to fill the gap of a lack of curatorial themes on issues of gender in Taiwan’s official galleries, and that it came about as a result of a large number of essays on women’s art frequently published in Artist magazine between 1993 and
1995.52 Articles on women’s art were rarely published in Taiwan before the early 1990s. This exhibition was the spark which ignited the demand for themed women’s exhibitions in Taiwan and this is the reason why I chose this show as the starting point for my research. Sexuality & Power has had a significant impact on women’s shows in Taiwan. Despite the fact that there is some criticism about how Shieh was appointed as the curator of this category, Articles on (Taiwanese) women’s arts published in Artist magazine before 1996 include Victoria Lu’s The Development and Enlightenment of Chinese Women’s Art (1993) and The Dialogue between Woman Artists and Writers (1993); Lu Tien-Yen’s Enthusiasm and Catharsis – Self-portraits and Ego Images of Lin Pei-Chun (1993); Hou Yi-Jen’s The Power of Women and the Legend of Cures – the Reasons why Women Need to Congregate (1994); Lai Ming-Ch’s The Social Status and Limitation of Women Artists – a Study of the Paintings of the Huang Sisters in Shulin in the 1930s and 1940s (1994); Lin Pey-Chwen’s Is Abstract Expressionism in Opposition with Feminist Art? (1994) and A Study of Female Identity, as Judged by the Standards of Beauty from the Distant Past till Nowadays (1995); Shih Jui-Jen’s The Confrontation of Life and Nature – a Critique of the Art Exhibition by Chiu Tzu-Yuan (1995), Some Thoughts on ‘Feminine Art’ in Taiwan and Their Potential Development (1995) and No Scaffolds – “Women’s Awareness” Has Started (1995); Fu Chia-Hui’s Re-examining Femininity and Feminine Arts – a Discussion of the History and the Theory of Feminine Arts Constructed by Griselda Pollock (1995); Hou Chun-Min’s Feminism is a Strategy (1995); Wu Mali’s We Are Women and We Are very Great! – on Miriam Schapiro, a Leader of Feminist Arts in the 1970s (1995), There was a Movement of Feminist art in history – on Faith Wilding, a Tutor of Feminist Arts (1995), Retrospection and Introspection of American Feminist Art and Education in the 1970s (1995); Hsiao Chiung-Jui’s Establishing a Viewpoint on Femininity (1995); Hsieh Hung-Chun’s Searching for a Balance (1995); Lin Chun-Ju’s A Study of Self-esteem and the Identification of Beauty from the Series of Work “Lilies” – the New Art Exhibition by Lin Pei-Chun (1995); Kao Chien-Hui’s A Debate on “Greatness” – a Discussion of Popular Exhibitions and Lectures on Gender (1995); Tao Tzu’s Hermaphrodites – a New Viewpoint on Feminist Art (1995); Wang Chia-Chi’s Vision and Difference – a Discussion of Several Exhibitions by Contemporary Women Artists (1995).