“Women’s Writing”, 女书 (Nüshu) in Chinese, is a script developed by and only passed on among the female population of small villages in South Hunan Province. Derived from square Chinese characters and local symbols, Nüshu takes the shape of rhombus, looking almost like dancing figures.
Nüshu has historically served an important role of communication and emancipation for local women; it enabled them to express themselves openly and freely in restricted and patriarchal imperial China: they frequently exchanged letters, poems, songs, prayers, tales, wedding congratulations, etiquette advice, etc. towards each other.
Nüshu culture goes beyond the writing system. The definition of a fluent Nüshu user includes singing, writing, embroidery and the sworn sisterhood. These activities bring the local women together, create a strong bond among them, and allows time and space where they could exchange emotions and ideas.
Here below are several projects I've developed around the subject of Nüshu during the artist residency at Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai.
During an exhibition, I created an environment with a round table embroidery session, where audience was invited to embroider their own Nüshu characters. On the fabric canvas, besides choices of threads, there were printed conversational excerpts from the time I spent in the village with the local women.
On the backside of the fabric, the characters become more abstract and a language on its own.
“Dance Remains” is a series of long exposure photographs I made of public dancers in various parks around Shanghai in the evening, after asking them to attach LED lights on their bodies while dancing. I was surprised at how many of them complied, and the result appears as if they’re writing an abstract secret language with the movement of their bodies. This for me evokes the times when the female population gathered together to sing songs and do embroidery in the Nüshu village.
By combining these photographs with the flowy Nüshu characters, I intend to form a poetic visual compilation of photography and writing, two subjects that fascinate me, as well as an interesting juxtaposition of two social customs from different times (where female place an important role).
Nüshu Banner & T-shirts
I created Nüshu banner and T-shirts as part of the practice and activism, as well as a way to self-fund my project in our time of alternative economy. It says “路来女子半边天” in Nüshu characters - “Women have always held up half of the sky”. It is a line extracted from《女书之歌》(Song of Nüshu), a manifesto-like 7- character poem song created by the local women.
Exhibition view at Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Shanghai