To Master Your Mother Tongue

To Master Your Mother Tongue

Artist: Siying Zhou
Curator: Kate Davis
Pavement Projects, Melbourne
15 October - 15 November 2018

Public Talk: 23 October, 7:00 - 8:15pm at Collingwood Library Meeting Room, Free

Dumpling Workshop: 26 October, 6:00 - 8:00pm at Otao Kitchen, $22.50

review by Chloé Hazelwood

Through an exhibition, a public conversation and a dumpling workshop, Siying Zhou’s To Master Your Mother Tongue explores the socio-political position of female Chinese Australians and the cultural identity of female Chinese immigrants.

The installation at Pavement Projects displaces the stereotypical representation of Chinese women in the context of Australian immigrant life. The domesticity of the window box, conjured through the pink backdrop, evokes a little girl’s bedroom, the walls of Marge and Homer’s house or a mid-century bathroom. But up close, the assemblage of reconfigured objects elevate the voices of female Chinese immigrants, asserting authority over anyone who has ever dared to pigeonhole, underestimate or exclude them. This includes the White voices that dominate the feminist movement and the male ones that have failed to represent women in the history of Chinese Australians.

Each element, of which there are many, has been painstakingly selected to offer entry points for all passers-by. Three modified LED shop signs with ‘YEAH’ ‘YAEH’ and ‘yeh’ flicker, while slowly rotating bronze chicken feet appear from within the drawer of a white cabinet that has been bejewelled with ‘suk my exotic fingers’. Above, the base of a tall lamp dons two wigs; a long blonde one veiled with a black bob. Two sleeved mannequin hands have been impaled by Japanese chopsticks that sit erect on slightly raised middle fingers; two kangaroo fur pom poms rest at one's base. Gloved fingers are pinching a tongue, and the image has been suspended from the roof with gold chains. Behind the spectacle and humour, these objects are barbed; the discomfort and tension they emit apparent.

The notion of being Chinese is further questioned in the workshop, where participants will be asked to invent dumplings that reference their favourite family food. While at the public conversation between the artist and Pia Johnson, Pia will present her unique Chinese identity by sharing her own stories and experiences. By placing female Chinese Australians at the fore, this project examines ‘multiculturalism’, which is so often used to describe contemporary Australian society. It sheds light on the diversity of Chinese cultural identity and Australian cultural identity, and the correlations between them.

Born in China, Siying Zhou is an interdisciplinary artist. Primarily research-based and project-driven, Zhou uses images, sound, video, objects and space to provoke questions, construct propositions and draw discussions towards cultural and social conventions and norms. Zhou’s artworks embody her interests in various representational forms of cultural difference, the sense of selfhood formed through immigration, and the intricate relationship between the land and its dwellers.

Photo: Kate Davis