«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
M. Turner, © 2008 Western artists, which indeed is against the spirit of seeking a sense of their own identity in the post-martial law era. Yet, Westernisation has become another form of cultural globalisation, and I am suggesting that those who have forgotten or ignored their own characteristics and cultural heritage will eventually still remain negligible in the global art market.
bell hooks, a black feminist thinker, proposes that ‘[t]o be in the margin is to be part of the whole but outside the main body’; she further points out that ‘[l]iving as we did – on the edge – we developed a particular way of seeing reality.
We looked both from the outside in and from the inside out’.105 Taiwanese women, being on the edge of both the geographical and cultural world centres, have a similar kind of experience in that they observe the developed West
understanding of how global systems work and how the centre and edge interact. Therefore, Taiwanese women artists are questioning the environment from their position as objects in society and the globe as a whole.106 Since a leading motif of postcolonial studies is to criticise the dominant power, postcolonial literature has widely included the concerns of women, non-West hooks, bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre. Boston: South End Press, 1984, preface.
At this stage, it is essential to consider the proportion of artists by gender in Taiwan.
According to a survey conducted by the Society of Contemporary Art, Taipei in 1999, the proportion of male students to females in fine arts is 1:1.45; the proportion of men artists to women artists who had shown their works in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (1993-1998) is 4.2:1, in the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts (1993-1998) is 17:1 and in the National Taiwan Museum (1988-1998) is 9.9:1. The proportion of men artists to women artists in Taiwan is 3.8:1. Society of Contemporary Art, Taipei (SOCA). An Analysis of Data for the Establishment of the Women Artists’ Association. Taipei: SOCA, 31 December 1999, appendix 2, no page numbers.
M. Turner, © 2008 ethnic minorities and subalterns. Here, I shall bring forward the ideas of ‘subaltern’, which, itself, implies the lower layer of the social power and
Marxist structure. Said describes ‘subaltern’ and states that:
Their [the Subaltern Studies group’s] aim was nothing less than a revolution in historiography, the immediate goal being to rescue the writing of Indian history from the domination of the nationalist elite and restore to it the important role of the urban poor and the rural masses.107 I have adopted the methods of the Subaltern Studies group to reveal the hidden voices of Taiwanese women in both political narratives and economic history. The other essential term I have addressed regularly in my thesis is ‘nation’, which is also what the Subaltern Studies group aimed to explore when re-writing India’s history.
In Imagined Communities (1983), on the subject of the nation’s cultural roots, Benedict Anderson proposes that ‘nationalism has to be understood by aligning it, not with self-consciously held political ideologies, but with the large cultural systems that preceded it, out of which – as well as against which – it came into being’. 108 For Anderson, a nation is understood not only by referring to its political status but most importantly to its people’s lives and cultures. In a state of postcolonialism, the once-colonised find their national identity not through a matter of politics but through how they consider themselves. It is not the geographical territory, recognised power and government that create the concept of a nation; more importantly, it is the Said (2001), op cit, p 352.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities, Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London and New York: Verso, 1983, p 12.
M. Turner, © 2008 ideology and culture that are embodied in people’s lives that allow them to be regarded as an existing community.
After martial law was suspended, Taiwan started to find its own identity after more than 400 years’ colonial history. It has been a task to find the authenticity of Taiwanese characteristics, as every invader tried to imprint the Taiwanese with its own culture when they occupied the island. As a result, Taiwanese culture is made up of many different elements from different countries which never really planned to develop Taiwan except for commercial, political or military purposes. Thus, I am emphasising that the essential nature of Taiwanese presence is hybridised, multi-layered and polysemous. Hence, ‘hybridity’ has become the other main theme in my research.
David Theo Goldberg describes hybridity and asserts that ‘[h]ybridity itself is taken as conceptually catching the in-between, as the product if not the very expression of mixture, of the antipure, of Becoming in the face of Being’s stasis’. Owing to Taiwan’s layered colonial history, contemporary Taiwanese culture is in the process of ‘becoming’, which is the typical example of hybridity, a mixture of the previous colonial cultural elements and present globalised Western impact. Exhibitions can be seen as the means to visualise the conceptual ideas of hybridity happening in current Taiwan’s society.
Goldberg, David Theo. ‘Heterogeneity and Hybridity: Colonial Legacy, Postcolonial Heresy’ in Schwarz, Henry and Sangeeta Ray (eds). A Companion to Postcolonial Studies.
Oxford: Blackwell, 2000, p 72.
M. Turner, © 2008 Finally, the last term to consider is cyborg, which is an emblem to indicate the arrival of the digital age in Taiwan. Cyborg, an asexual and semi-human creature, actually provides contemporary Taiwanese (women) artists with a new interface with which to create their works, such as multi-media and digital works, etc. Owing to the fact that technology has now greatly transformed Taiwanese people’s lives, a different way to consider sexuality can be proposed. The digital age also marks the time that artists of younger generations have viewed themselves differently and a generation gap has been generated gradually in the post-martial law era. Cyborg is a new kind of hybridity, as it is a mixture of modern technology, the ideas of globalisation and Westernisation, the Taiwanese people and, more importantly, their distinctive input from their experience as both the manufacturing labourers and Oriental cultural heritage.
M. Turner, © 2008 PART I: Re-positioning History Historical Narratives and National Identity: the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition (1997) To live in Taiwan today means to inhabit a fragmented and segmented world, where traditional cultures live alongside new Western ways of life and where identity is continuously put to a [test] and can be lost in an infinite accumulation of behavioural modes becoming an instance of new energy capable of creating interconnectedness, a reality where the elements of the past conjugate and converge with the evolved facts of the present.1 To start this chapter, I have quoted the most well-known Taiwanese woman artist, Wu Mali. She is clearly indicating the fact that the social phenomenon in Taiwan is unsteady, changing and interacting with tradition and modern ideas (Western style). To paraphrase, the issue of identity is not permanent.
Taiwan’s colonial history has created this kind of social environment and since the revocation of martial law in 1987, people living on the island have experienced both the largest sense of freedom and the most chaotic changes in terms of everyday culture and social values. What makes the Taiwanese experience such an uncertainty are the constantly changing concepts within politics, society, culture and nationhood. To be a resident of Taiwan is to experience the feeling of being the middle part of a sandwich, clamped between several kinds of heterogeneity: traditional, modern, Chinese, Japanese and the West. In particular, Taiwan’s trilateral relationship with
M. Turner, © 2008 years or more of history, has continued to affect Taiwanese society right up until today.
To explain this social phenomenon and to analyse the social background, a good example to draw on is the notorious massacre known as the 228 Incident, which occurred in 1947 and which resulted in the installation of martial law on the island by the Chinese Nationalist government in 1949. In this chapter, I am intrigued by two crucial issues of postcolonial studies: national identity and historical narratives and how they interact with visual art. By collecting evidence from the literature regarding the Incident, I illustrate the historical facts that result in Taiwan’s confusion about its identity and its concepts of nationalism. I then explore the curatorial background of the show, the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition: Sorrow and Sublimation, held in the Fine Arts Museum of Taipei (FAMT) [fig 7] in 1997, which was developed in order to memorialise the Incident by presenting relevant documents and artworks.
An element of the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition in 1997 was subtitled, The Forgotten Women [fig 8], which emphasised healing the wounds and forgetting the grief under Chiang’s Nationalist government, as seen from a woman’s point of view. For the first time, this brought consideration of the women affected by the 228 Incident into the male-dominated history. After addressing the historical narratives of the Incident and the ideas of nationalism for the Taiwanese, I move my focus to this show and how women have examined the history that had, until now, been largely recorded by patriarchal authorities. In this chapter, I initially consider the issues of nation and national identity by looking at the history of the 228 Incident and the triangular relationship M. Turner, © 2008 between Taiwan, Japan and China. I then examine women’s perspectives towards the ideas of nationalism and their views of the Incident by analysing the 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition with reference to the studies of subaltern theory. Additionally, I am demonstrating that Taiwanese women artists are re-fabricating the concepts of nation and nationalism, through which they are legitimising themselves in Taiwanese culture. Eventually, by examining women’s re-interpretation of the concepts of nation, I suggest that women artists are divulging hidden memory and culture, through which a more complete sense of Taiwanese identities is developing.
The 228 Incident: Politics and History The term, 228, refers to the 28th of February. The ‘228 Incident’ (also entitled the 228 Revolution and the 228 Massacre), which is a deeply rooted trauma for the Taiwanese, refers to the massacre of an estimated 10,000 Taiwanese2 during a bloody conflict between the Taiwanese and the Chinese Nationalists in 1947. For most Taiwanese, the 228 Incident reminds them that there can be no dignity for themselves without a final, permanent separation from China, and thus, the record of the ‘massacre’ has become the most significant Incident in Taiwan’s history. Regarding the importance of this event, Robert
Edmondson asserts that:
The February 28 Incident made Taiwanese history knowable not through its sufficiency as a historical cause per se, but through a much more complex, drawn-out process of meaning-making, iconization, deployment, and ritualization. Attending to this kind of ‘narratological causality’ challenges us to think about the intricate and intimate relationship The figure, 10,000, is an estimated number and some discussion about the deaths during the Incident is detailed in the latter part of this chapter.
M. Turner, © 2008 between what we think of as the ‘fact’ of history and the process of their performative and narrative construction.3 For Edmondson, the 228 Incident has made Taiwanese history a subject which identifies itself to be independent from Chinese history. The facts of history make the Taiwanese consider their own identity and location within history.
According to Melissa Brown’s Is Taiwan Chinese? (2004), before Japan took over Taiwan after the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, people in Taiwan did not
Taiwan viewed themselves as different from non-Han, including aborigines and Europeans (the Dutch), Taiwanese identity does not neatly correspond to any of the Chinese and ‘regional’ Han identities. 4 Brown explains this kind of ideology by asserting that ‘Taiwan’s sociopolitical experience took a different path from China’s’.5 Therefore, even though many Taiwanese living on the island can trace their ancestors, mostly from the southeastern coast of China, they do not consider themselves as a part of China. This understanding remains until now and has become even more implicit and political, having been strengthened by the 228 Incident. It is evident therefore that the 228 Incident has become an important historical event that vividly and politically separates the Taiwanese (Formosans) from Mainland China, and the
assumed a clear significance in the late 1990s when the Taiwanese authorities started to re-consider the tragedy and when more and more Taiwan-born Taiwanese gained political power from Chiang’s party, the KMT.
Edmondson, Robert. ‘The February 28 Incident and National Identity’ in Corcuff (ed), op cit, p 25.
Han here refers to both Taiwanese (Minnan and Hakka) and Mainlanders.
Brown (2004), op cit, p 7.
M. Turner, © 2008 In order to explain the significance of the 228 Incident, and how the first 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition was held some fifty years after the tragedy took place, I need to detail more narratives of Taiwan’s history. Furthermore, in order to explain how Taiwan’s national/ethnic identity was developed after the 228 Incident, I need to re-consider certain elements of Taiwan’s history, particularly with regard to the influences in women’s art.
Before looking at the details of the Incident and before considering Taiwanese people’s endeavour to develop their own national identity, it is worth tracing the history of Taiwan from when the island began to be included as a part of China.