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Chen Han Sheng and Nicole Pun at WOMEN我們: From Her to Here 女也彳亍


Co-presented by WMA and San Francisco Chinese Culture Center, WOMEN我們: From Her to Here 女也彳亍 is a two-phase exhibition, with its first chapter concluded in May. Curated by Hoi Leung, the show features six multidisciplinary artists discovering the queer state of mind that is fluid and non-binary, their works offer new perspectives for us to navigate ourselves in a seemingly stiff and definite world. This review focuses on discussing Taiwanese artist Chen Han Sheng’s installation When I was a Child and archival prints In and Out by Hong Kong artist Nicole Pun.

In memory of Yeh Yung Chi - Then and Now

Chen Han Sheng, When I was a Child, 2020, mixed-media installation ©️Chen Han Sheng

Image: WMA

Upon arriving at the gallery space, audiences are introduced to a three-part mixed media installation by Chen Han Sheng. In 2020, the same year this artwork was created, the world was hit by the COVID pandemic. Surgical masks became scarce and yet a young boy refused to put on a pink mask because of the pressure of gender stereotypes. In parallel, this was also the 20th anniversary of Yeh Yung Chi’s passing. Yeh had endured long-term bullying due to his gender nonconformity.

As we may be so used to paying attention to text and instructions, the vinyl on the wall easily caught my attention. Yeh’s mother, Chen Chun-Ju’s transcript excerpts were clearly displayed on the wall in a sizable font with packed line-spacing. These vocal fragments were put together to form an impactful and sentimental visual arrangement, allowing audiences to situate themselves in Chen’s narrative as a mother mourning the death of her son. I must say When I was a Child really touched me. Having had prior knowledge of the Yeh Yung-Chih incident, seeing the excerpts was just as, if not more impactful and heartbreaking than how I remember them from the documentary. The documentary excerpts on the windows delivered a perspective on the incident as a mother, creating a point of resonance for many parents. This piece lead me to reflect on how the LGBTQ+ community is focused upon. Conventional narratives usually focus on queer individuals, but the friends and families of the individual are much less discussed. Like Chen Chun-Ju, though she did not experience first-hand bullying, she experienced suppression to another degree. I look forward to seeing more discussion on families of LGBT youth when we talk about the future of LGBT.

Chen Han Sheng, When I was a Child, 2020, mixed-media installation ©️Chen Han Sheng

Image: WMA

A pink silkscreen printing of a rohdea adds a hint of femininity to Chen Han Seng’s work. This printing merges several elements to commemorate Yeh Yung-Chi and cleverly uses the color pink to tie this 20-year-old incident to Taiwan’s gender expression discussions today. Taking reference from the documentary, where it mentioned the rohdea plant is the only remaining object of Yeh. The artist reproduces the image of the plant, placing it on the top half of the canvas, which is seemingly at a similar angle as it was in the documentary. Without a table or some sort of support underneath, the houseplant seemed to be floating on its own. The material of silkscreen also gives off an aged sentiment, signifying Yeh’s experience and the historic notion of the happening. Coherently, I think the artist uses the color pink to connect the Yeh incident and Taiwan’s pink mask matter. When I was a Child is a reflection of Taiwanese sex education and the intricate gender progress of the past two decades, it prompts audiences to ponder on gender sterotypes as well as the influence it has on us and on people around us.

Archiving Queer Desire

Nicole Pun, In & Out #5 /#1 /#8, 2014 ©️Nicole Pun. Image: WMA

The three archival prints showing upper arm gestures is Hong Kong artist Nicole Pun’s In and Out. Our hands and fingers are essential parts of our body for daily functioning. To lesbians, their hands entail intimate meanings. Pun interviewed queer women from the US, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The participants perform in front of the artist’s lens on how they touch and make love to their partners. The photographs capture lesbian desire and act as a documentary on lesbian sexuality.

To me, In and out has a strong impact as it suggests the reality that juxtaposes with the media-portrayed lesbian sexuality. The subjects of the three photographs are actual lesbians who are Asian, aged, and non-skinny - a representation that is hard to find. The diverse hand gestures in the photographs show personal intimacies that do not fall into the generalization of females being soft and gentle, it points out that intimacy between women can be intense, initiative, and expressive. In and out offers a realistic lens to sapphic desire and sensibility, highlighting the diversity and possibilities of skinship.

At one of the exhibition’s artist talks, Queer Desires and Sensitivity, Speaker Sonia Wong and Chan Sai Lok enthusiastically encourage Nicole to continue her interviews and archive these documentaries. Why is archiving imperative? Archives usually preserve primary sources in various mediums, the collections of records form evidence of certain activities, made available for future studies. History and gender studies scholars often took reference to archival materials for evidence of homoeroticism and same-sex relationships in the past. Nonetheless, intimacies of the same sex, especially between women have been very limited in history. In and Out archiving prints and documented experiences fills in the gaps in that regard and offers a solid attribute to recording Hong Kong lesbians' eroticism and sexuality, enabling stories and experiences to be told with historical depth and understanding.

Chapter One and Two

The exhibition WOMEN我們: From Her to Here 女也彳亍 raises critical reflection on Asian queer history and futurity, and sheds light on queer desire and fluidity. Chen Han Seng’s When I was a Child delicately ties together a past incident and present social issues. While calling upon Taiwan’s advocacy progress in the past two decades, the artwork also reminded us of the beautifully fluid nature of the LGBTQ+ community. In and Out by Nicole Pun prompts audiences to imagine intimate moments between queer partners, adding diversity to the definition of desire and sexuality. During the time of the show, WMA extends the discussion to public programmes, including a screening cum sharing on gender-neutral parenting, co-hosting with local sex and gender education organization FLUID. In collaboration with One Book Half- the young gender book space recommends a list of gender related books from local writers, and about the local queer scene.

As a response to WOMEN: From Her to Here, WMA presents Fill in the Blanks: Queer Print Culture in Hong Kong from 6 June to 6 July 2022. LGBTQ+ collective Queer Reads Library will activate an “incubation space” for local collections and researching archival materials from the 80s to the contemporary. The exhibition aims to “fill in the blanks” for the lesser-known queer history of Hong Kong. Do not miss your chance to visit the space during Pride Month!


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