Women Hold up Half the Sky (2022) is a durational performance that pays homage to Nüshu, or Women’s Script. Derived from Chinese characters by women in thirteenth-century in Jiangyong County, China, Nüshu is the only known surviving script created by women and used exclusively by women. Mothers, daughters, sisters and friends used Nüshu in secret to communicate, journal, record folk song and pass down wisdoms. An incognito language, the characters were designed to resemble accidental markings–such as stitches in embroideries and cracks in architecture. Most records of Nüshu was destroyed during the 60s-and-70s crackdown on arts and culture.
In this performance, I attempt to sew red thread into a block of ice, where ink and dried peonies are frozen inside. Red stamp ink signifies the predominant color used in communications and media, including bureaucratic paperwork, in the political background of 60s and 70s. Cultivated in China since 4000 years ago and widely seen in traditional Chinese ink paintings, the peony is regarded a national iconography and the unofficial state flower. The peony petals, symbolizing a rich cultural heritage, are frozen inside a historical moment marked by cultural erasure. During the course of the ice block melting, I sew the Nüshu characters of “Women hold up half the sky,” a famous saying of Mao, into the ice until the ice melts away. The needle struggles to penetrate the ice. After taking shape, Nüshu characters disappear quickly due to fracturing or melting. Sometimes, where the needle cracks the ice, the thread serve to suture the breakage.