Disobedient Daughters

'Disobedient Daughters' features the work of nine female artists/artist collectives who challenge visual tropes of Asian women. Staged at Metro Arts in Brisbane, the show deconstructs assumptions pertaining to race and gender, recalibrating representations of female Asian experience.

Artist Profile chatted to curator Sophia Cai about the ideas driving this highly personal exhibition, ahead of its opening on 4 April.

What inspired your conception of ‘Disobedient Daughters’?
I had previously curated Pixy Liao’s first solo exhibition in Australia at Firstdraft titled ‘Some Words Are Just Between Us.’ The exhibition presented works that examined gender roles and expectations, and the project led to some interesting conversations and discussions between us, particularly in relation to the experience of occupying an Asian female body in a majority non-Asian country (I live in Australia, Pixy lives in the United States). From that point on I became interested in exploring the idea of a larger exhibition centered on contemporary diasporic Asian female experience, but with a particular focus on self-representation and visibility. This was in part motivated by what I consumed around me in popular media, and how I felt Asian women were typically represented (or not) through these channels.

What are some of the stereotypical tropes of Asian women that the artists challenge?
If you look at the way that Asian women are represented in film and literature, there seem to be particular patterns or stereotypes they fall into. On one hand is the idea of submissiveness or meekness, a fragile ‘China doll’, while the other extreme of the spectrum is a stereotype of an aggressive ‘dragon lady’. The intersection of race and culture play a strong part in perpetuating these exoticisms.

There is also a particular weight of cultural and familial expectation that this exhibition attempts to challenge or refute; particularly ideas as they relate to being a ‘good daughter’ or being a model migrant. I wanted to include a diversity of artistic voices to include a range of perspectives on these issues.

The exhibition offers a cross-section of female Asian experience through individualised encounters. Can you tell me about some of the more personal works?
Some of the most personal works in the show include Andy Mullen’s series ‘I’m Yours’, which features 30 nudes of the artist created over three years. The works are presented in two ways: as digital files on a USB stick in a ring box, as well as a series small photo prints that have been painted over to obscure her figure. These works derive from Mullens’ own experience and her questions surrounding intimacy, sexuality and desire.

Another work derived from autobiography is Sancintya Mohini Simpson’s video ‘Loss//Healing’. In this work the artist gets the names of women in her matrilineal line tattooed onto her back in their first language, starting with Simpson’s mother, then grandmother, great-grandmothers and great-great grandmothers. This work is about the burden and the legacy of trauma passed down through generations.

Why do you think the digital medium is effective in the conceptual context of the show?
We live in a highly visual culture and consume images daily through our screens. Photography and video are pertinent mediums because they’re closely associated with these modes of image-making. While we no longer accept the photograph as ‘truth’, there is still a close connection between the camera and capturing the immediate world around us. I think this is why it’s an effective tool to challenge visual stereotypes and imagery, which use the same tools that create those tropes in the first place.

As a young Chinese Australian woman living and working in Melbourne, have you filtered any of your own experience into the show?
This show is very close to my heart and speaks to my own experiences growing up in Australia. Luckily, the exhibition has also been a wonderful opportunity to connect with other Asian female creatives in Australia and abroad. What has been very humbling has been the response to this show, and realising my experiences are not mine alone. Sharing that with the artists in the show, in particular, has been really eye-opening.

What do you hope audiences will take from ‘Disobedient Daughters’?
I hope that the exhibition will speak to a wide range of audiences, not only women and not only those who have Asian heritage. In particular, I hope it will make audiences appreciate that there is no such thing as a singular cultural or gender identity, and perhaps even challenge some preconceived notions and ideas. I hope this show will also go some lengths to address the issues of diversity and representation in the visual arts sector in Australia.

Disobedient Daughters
4 – 21 April 2018
Metro Arts, Brisbane

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