- a return to wales
The inspiration for the ‘Object-Stories of British Chinese women’ started from the depths of my wardrobe. In 2012, I returned to Wales after a long spell of living in England. After much relocating, I found a two piece pyjama set amongst my possessions. They had a home spun quality that was distinctive to any high street clothing. The design and fabric seem to belong to another era. As a two piece, the top had buttons and a rounded collar with soft piping while the trousers had a soft elasticated waist. The pattern glowed with a dewy sense of romance as small flowers were scattered in front of a hazy yellow background. Elegantly feminine, the cotton was silky cool to touch.
Unsure how this pyjama set arrived in my possessions, I asked my mother about their origins. My mother’s response was pragmatic and unlaboured. Showing little sentimental attachment, my mum explained that the pyjama set was purchased in Hong Kong in anticipation of coming to the UK. The pyjamas were brought along with other things like a watch, a handbag and her Chinese wedding dress. After all, the starting of a new life needs to be properly furnished by new things, as she rightly pointed out.
In my possession, this pyjama set took on a heightened significance. While unexpressed by my mother, it was a material memento of her ambitions and courage as a migrant Chinese woman and to leave her home country for one that was culturally unfamiliar to her. Also I was struck by the intimacy of the clothing because this was not clothing for social occasions but rather for the domestic realm of resting and sleeping.
This intimacy loomed large; my mother wore these pyjamas in the way that I once wore her body as a foetus. Now folded before me, they belong to a time that I could never physically be in or understand. They epitomised the apprehension and courage involved to migrate somewhere else. With little command of English and having only met my father for two weeks before agreeing to marriage and life in Wales. The mixture of determination and faith is indeterminable. Whilst the pyjamas show a prettiness, they also display the strength for an ambition for a better life against the odds.
As an artist, my mother’s pyjamas became an inspiration for artworks as I set about experimenting. Alongside this experimentation, a thought lingered in the back of my mind as I wondered about all the variety of things and objects that might be lying in the forgotten nooks and crannies of drawers and wardrobes of other British Chinese women. I realised the journey I embarked upon with my mother’s pyjamas could be shared with other women to discover other objects and stories. The seed was sown and this became a doctoral project at the University of Westminster in 2016.
Over 30 British Chinese have been a part of the ‘Object-Stories’ project where they have brought things to me and taken part in art workshops. Women across London came forward and welcomed me into their homes and community centres and told me about their worlds and their objects. Their stories emerged with humour and determination as they spoke of a range of life experiences. They showed me an eclectic diversity objects which I could not have anticipated. Getting to know a group of women that I would not otherwise have met was a journey full of surprises. The pages of this website offer a snapshot into the lives of British Chinese women through their objects and our journeys forged in this country.
- a return to wales