Stories of a woman and her dowry, 2019

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Stories of a Woman and Her Dowry is the first solo exhibition after Yanyun Chen’s successful outing at the Singapore Art Museum’s President’s Young Talents (PYT) showcase. It highlights the signature narrativity of her installations, both visible in the PYT presentation and here, where the work is as much seen as read, and text functions as theoretical and narrative devices equally, if not more so than visual ones.

The installation is organized novelistically, with four chapters and a prologue. Each chapter is named by a Chinese ideogram, each designating the roles and life-stages a woman was expected to occupy within the Chinese-Hainanese-Cantonese milieu of her family - 女 nu (woman), 妻 qi (bride), 娘 niang (wife), 母 mu (mother). Stories of a Woman and Her Dowry as an installation works as spatial auto-fiction, in which the walls of the Grey Projects space becomes the analogue to pages and text, and the encompassing space the spin of a biography of a young woman weighing the consequences of these expectations and staging a refusal. The installation draws filmic associations with scenes in Raise the Red Lantern (1991), A City of Sadness (1989), as well as literary allusions to an Ophelia-like body floating on a plain of liquid red.”

Jason Wee, Grey Projects, 2019

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Stories of a Woman and Her Dowry

女娘妻母
Girl, bride, wife, mother

 This is a story of a woman — and her dowry.

My grandmother and I have a tense relationship.
Her beliefs and my actions grate at each other, generations apart.
She was married in the 1950s: in a time when the value of a Straits Chinese daughter is to be found in being wedded-off young, virginal, ostentatiously decked in red and gold, with a substantial dowry, for a suitable price. She was that woman.

What is the price of a bride?
The dance of a marital economy—potlatch.
These dowry objects,
each a token of a price of a woman who came before me:
the price she was valued at; the price she paid.
To prove she had value.

 I am not that woman. 
I refuse to be priced;
so have no worth.
Will not be a good—
perhaps am no good.
Am questionable,
so constantly questioned,
put into question.

 We reach a stale-mate—
Dowries remind us
of our broken conversation. 

Worthless;
priceless.

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photographs by Joseph Nair

photographs by Joseph Nair