Where do our true selves reside? One person can be so many things to the other people around us. Wife and companion, mother, friend and co-conspirator, teacher, sister, mentor, aunt, student, daughter, artist and consumer.
Recently, I have become painfully aware of the gaze that follows me around in China. I’m overly conscious of it. It haunts me. It is often followed by a laugh, giggle or an unfriendly word. Or is it really? Is it just my supra-awareness of something not there?
The wedding dress should represent a women at her most beautiful moment. Pure, virtuous, and ripe for the taking. These days of course, most of us are far from this untouched vision of womanhood, and feminism has taught us to rise beyond these bogus boundaries.
The wedding dress represents an untarnished commitment, to the spirit that stirs me to create art.
The wedding dress represents a commercial image of me, what others believe they see. Those that dare to go underneath can maybe catch a glimpse of who I really am.
Stripped down, exposed, judged laid bare. Do you still like what you see?
My short life has been eventful. Born on the island of the sun, raised in the eye of the eagle and living now in the heart of the dragon. Life in China is not the same as New York, or Barbados. Each transition meant lots of adjusting. Moving at 18 years old away from a large family on the small island paradise of Barbados to a huge metropolis was quite a transition. Then, after finishing my art degree in New York, getting married and bearing our son, we moved again to China. Our days are our families nights, and the differences in cultural traditions can be just as stark. My life condition also changed drastically as a new mother and wife complete with a new last name. I have often joked with my friends that each new place we move to I have a new name, and new identity it seems.
We have lived in China for 5 years so our experiences go a little beyond the traveling foreigner. In fact, the only home our son knows is China. After several tries with the insanely difficult written exam (see my earlier post) I recently got my driver’s license and have been driving here for about 4 months now. I’ve had 3 (small) accidents and I’m still not totally comfortable on the roads. I learned to drive in New York, which has a pretty bad reputation in America, especially because of Manhattan taxi drivers. Well let me tell you, they ain’t got nuttin’ on the average driver here. I’m working on developing my “balls of steel”. It really takes guts to drive here. Guts and a huge dose of patience, but mostly guts. Patience might get you flattened. It’s that serious. What American drivers call “chicken” is a regular driving tactic in Zhengzhou where we used to live. Hangzhou is much better, but I still say a short pray before and after driving, just in case.
I had another really interesting experience recently, surgery. Having never gone under the knife before, I had no idea what to expect. I needed to have a fibroid removed, a fairly common procedure it seems. Family have since told me that with laser surgery the process can even be done in a day or so. I’m not sure why that option was not available for me. Maybe I just don’t know how to ask the right questions. I was in the hospital for 8 days. The number eight is a very lucky number in China, so in fact I didn’t mind. I also happened to be living on the eighth floor in the eighth bed! 888, really, really lucky.
While in the hospital, I discovered something wonderful. I have lots of great friends in China. Several of the mothers of my students came to visit with fruit, gifts, and encouraging words. Almost all revealed that they also have or had a fibroid. Their enthusiastic greetings really cheered my soul at what I thought would have been quite a difficult time.
One student’s father is a doctor of internal medicine, Doctor Lu Wen. He was kind enough to inform his colleague of my situation. As a result the director of the department Professor Tong was my chief surgeon. His reputation precedes him, and rightly so. I am living proof of his handy work. I will be rocking a bikini this summer. You can check the pictures then and see for yourself (wink). Professor Tong has a sweet, calm spirit, and he really is an inspiration for what he has been able to accomplish in such a short time, as he is only a few years my senior. He has invited me to teach his son and his sister’s son, an offer I was very happy to accept.
Besides the gracious Professor Tong, the other new friends I made during that week were also quite special. I shared the room with 3 other very interesting women. I’ve added some pictures below. I just today started talking to the daughter of one of my roommates, and I think it will also be an important relationship 🙂
The most amazing part of my stay was my husband. He visited every day with home cooked meals and juices, clothing and whatever I needed. He spent one uncomfortable night in a cot made for people much smaller than him (thanks to Alex’s mom Feila for providing the cot without which I don’t know how he would have managed.) He helped to keep me fed, clean and entertained everyday, while taking care of our home and son. Thanks are also due to one of his students Candy, who took Alemayehu to her hometown for 5 days which was a great help, and who acted as my main translator for the hospital and insurance company.
I left the hospital healthier, rested, and spirits high, after one week of celebrity status. It really was a surprisingly up-lifting experience. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by lots of caring people. I’m especially happy to be with a partner who is willing to go so far out of his way to make sure I am comfortable. This experience is certainly one that will stay with me, close to my heart, and I hope sharing these experiences here helps my readers learn more of what it means to live in the heart of the dragon.
Where does time fly to? Living in Hangzhou and raising our son just the two of us has its challenges, not the least of which is the family bonds we long for, and try to foster with Skype calls and Facebook messages, a far cry from a grandmother’s hug and an auntie’s scolding. For our son, his family, although quite large if you count all the relatives in Barbados, the US and Guyana, is reduced to visits every other year from Lester’s mom (we love you Janette Paul), and a blurry computer screen image of my family.
It’s really just us witnessing him transform. So Skype, Facebook, Google Plus and this website are so much more for us that just highly technical forms of communication. They help to build a crucial bridge of support for our family ties. I grew up in a huge family, with my aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins on both sides filling my life. For Alemayehu, Lester and I are basically his whole world. He has already lived in 4 apartments and traveled to about 9 counties so we think stability and ritual are important; and family. We hope everything his is able to experience makes up for the fact that an extended family is just an abstract concept to him.
To all my friends and family reading this, I know I have not been the best at keeping in touch, but I love you all. This blog post is for you, just as much as it is for Alemayehu, to show how proud we are of all he has achieved last year. He started piano classes (will add a video clip of his first recital soon) as well as Tiquando classes. He is in his last year of kindergarten, as Chinese students don’t start primary school until 6 or 7 years old. We spent a much more upbeat Christmas holiday last year, and had a really restful Chinese New Year. There are also some more pictures of his 5th year birthday party, and his closest friends. He recently started to write to his friend Natasha who lives in the Ukraine and spent last year in China. Hope you enjoy the pictures and this quick recap!
I have lived in China for 5 years now, so you can bet I jumped at the chance to play mass in Shanghai! On Saturday 14th September 2013, led by Trinidadian–born Band Leader, Ansel Wong, the Tsingtac Mas Band, performed for the fifth year in China promoting Carnival; and for the first time this year the band was joined by Steel Pan on the streets of Shanghai performing to a live street audience as well as a TV audience, all together over 200 million Chinese viewers.
The Shanghai Tourism Festival, with a collage of flamboyant color, echoing sounds and a mix of competition and celebration, is an event like no other! Though similar in essence to the carnivals of both Port-of-Spain and London, the organization and scale of the event was fascinating, a beautiful a night-time spectacle! The most discernible difference was the entourage of over 30 large competing and mesmerizing mobile floats beautifully illuminated and adorned with hundreds of halogen bulbs. They depicted cultures within China and around the world, with native scenes and characters such as giant moving crabs (fake, not curried)!
My costume was the dress used for “Unraveled-The Other Half” performance piece, with some modifications for the ease of mobility. The best part of the whole experience was the interaction with the folks from London and reconnecting with the carnival spirit. Thanks to my dear friend and costume designer Khisha Clarke for making these connections possible and for my fabulous head dress!
Mas and Pan in China was a success. Dr Shen Shanzhou, Vice Chairman of The Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration praised the band for its performances and presented it with an award of commendation. In return, the Band presented the officials of the City Administration with bottles of Angostura 1824, Mount Gay Extra Old and copies of the T&T Gold Book.
It was my pleasure to have participated in this grand spectacle, and I look forward to similar performances in the future.
The first event of the PaR (Practice as Research) thesis project called the Black Body and Beauty in China a study by Glenis Paul at the China Academy of Art: Hangzhou China.
As a black woman in China, my daily interactions with the Chinese public require discipline and patience in a monolithic and sometimes xenophobic culture. In most Asian communities, dark skin is considered ugly, especially for women. This is a little known fact in the western world. Not only is the color of my skin ridiculed daily, the texture and maintenance of my hair is completely misunderstood.
Even within the diaspora of the black community, these features of beauty are just recently in the last 70 or so years being celebrated as a source of pride. I come from a community of deeply entrenched post-traumatic self-criticism, a community just beginning to celebrate the diversity in textures and tones of skin and hair. This tradition, which celebrates natural black beauty is still young but it is a passionate and vitally essential movement of which I have been a fervent participant in Barbados and in Brooklyn, New York. I was not prepared for the intensity of opinions among the Asian community that their own tanned yellow skins were ugly. If tanned Asian skin cannot be beautiful, where does that leave my black sisters?
This is the first issue I try to address in my work, but there is a deeper much more troubling issue at stake, understanding China on a deeper level than merely through the eyes of an outsider. I have lived in China for 6 years now, and have begun to set down firm roots in this country, some would say my practice, interactions and study of the language I have earned a kind of honorary membership. Honorary member or no, I am still an outsider, but I firmly believe that in order to make any inroads on this issue I must be able to see it as the Chinese do. So the under-lying question I wish to pose in this study is: In an increasingly international world, and as an outsider, how can I bring the deeply entrenched stigmas of colorism to light in China?
China is changing fast, and understanding the changes and my possible role in helping to orient positive attitudes towards other cultures as well as learning the values that these open views can bring to improve deeply entrenched and outdated cultural ideas, is the reason for this life changing move to China, the focus of my artwork and the content of this study.
The first piece is part of the series Tattoo and is called Stencil. It was done in collaboration with fellow performance artist Liu Xiao and with the help of Zhou Tengxiao, Sarah Malone and Liu Ni. Liu Xiao agreed to paint my back a color approximating the Asian skin tone, then write the well known Chinese saying, “一白遮百丑” which literally means, one white covers one hundred ugly. He then used a stencil knife to cut out the characters revealing the dark skin underneath. This event took place on October 13, 2-5pm at the Wushan Square during the China Folk Arts Festival.
On April 25th and 26th we were happy to present the Fusion Performance Art Workshop. Lectures and performances geared at the creation of a platform for young artists to develop their ideas using performance art, no matter which discipline they prefer, weather it is traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy or new media art.
The two day workshop was quite successful, and we would like to say thanks to everyone who helped to make this event possible. Special thanks to our guest speakers Professor Qiu Zhijie and Professor Cai Qing. To the curators and the performers including Zhou Manlin (Mary) Hana Kucharovicova Yang Keke, Anna, Kristin and Liu Xiao.
Be on the lookout for our next program coming at the end of May.