Recently, the #Me Too movement has emerged as one of the most influential women’s rights movements in the world, a hash tag used on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment women endure, particularly in the workplace. The hash tag has trended in at least 85 countries and regions including India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, South Korea and even Hong Kong. Demonstrating, in the process, that the impact of women on society has been gradually increasing.
Since the 1990s, the importance of the work of female artists has attracted more international attention. In order to enhance the reputation of female artists and show the impact of their work upon society and culture, as well as revealing the diverse roles of female identity, Macao Museum of Art (MAM) – under the auspices of the Cultural Affairs Bureau and Albergue SCM – have jointly organised the exhibition Women Artists – 1st International Biennial of Macau, currently running until13 May.
The biennial comprises two sections. The first showcases 41 works from MAM’s 1970s collection, presented and arranged in 100-year periods. Exhibited pieces include the ink painting Scenery by Pan Xiaoying, 1980s; silkscreen printing Untitled by Menez, 1980; mixed media artwork Untitled by Ana Vidigal, 1992; and an array of selected works from a series created by invited artists. The second section invites 101 female artists active in international art circles to showcase their wonderful works at Albergue SCM.
In all, 132 female artists from Mainland China, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Russia, India, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and other countries and regions have been invited to participate in this biennial showcasing more than 140 works.
Interview with Peng Yun
During the biennial, local artist Peng Yun is showcasing one installation and one video, which is also being run in an exhibition in the UK.
Installation The Passage was shown in MAM in 2008. Audiences can see a wall built at the entrance of the exhibition hall cutting off pedestrian access. Thus, the only way to enter is through the hole in the wall. Whilst walking towards the hole, visitors have to stamp on a white mattress, sheet, quilt and pillow on the bed.
“The wall which was used to set up a self-protection space had been damaged by making the hole forcedly, and the bed inside becomes the passage for people passing through. With the footprints increasing on the white sheet, all the tenderness, softness and privacy has disappeared,” says Peng.
When people first see the entrance in the wall some might feel embarrassed to walk through it but when they try a few times they feel it is natural and interesting, the artist maintains, as she wants to express the process of acquaintance – from strangeness to familiarity to addiction.
Another artwork is a video titled Miss Melissa and Mr. Fish at 2:31 pm. In this video, audiences can see a woman’s hand with raspberry nail polish, a dead fish and lilies, symbolising man and woman.
“For this work I decided to use a dead fish and Miss Melissa’s right hand as the main characters in a series of actions such as touching, stroking, examining, invading and destroying. These actions grow in intensity with the emotional uncertainties of the hand until the fish’s body is painstaking destroyed.” Peng explains, adding, “The peak of an emotional questioning with an almost hysterical construction of suffering without ever receiving an answer.”
A painter, photographer, videographer and fashion designer, Peng is one of few versatile female artists in Macau today: “I never constrain artistic forms of expression. I only choose the right way to express my mood at that time.”
In fact, this talented artist describes the beginning of her art journey as an arrangement with fate: “I grew up in a small city, and coincidently got an opportunity to study painting. l just feel good when I paint for no reason.”
Peng was the first student to receive an offer from a professional art college in her home town. “I needed to take more than ten hours’ bus-ride to get downtown to learn. It was around 4:00am, 5:00am when I arrived there. Standing in front of the gate, facing the bamboos, I suddenly felt that I really belonged to this place.”
Peng used to study oil painting in school, where there was a teacher who came from Beijing and brought many installations to class. “When seeing these kinds of contemporary artworks, I suddenly realised that art could be expressed in so many ways.”
There was a time when Peng was struggling in her life, and it is art that has always been her way to record it: “I always speak to my life through my works. I express my experiences and emotions in my life through a series of video works. It’s like a kind of self-healing.”
In 2014, she met Portuguese Indian woman Sara, and after listening to her story Peng decided to make a video of it, inviting Sara to be the main character. Sara was born in colonial Macau and moved to Portugal with her daughter following big changes in her life.
But this woman was always missing Macau, leaving her friends and memories: “When I saw the mirror in a public restroom, I suddenly recalled Sara’s experience. I invited her to be the character of my video and she kindly accepted.”
In the video, the audience can see Sara wiping the mirror. During the shoot, Peng gave Sara a chance to see herself so clearly, in fact, that when filming was done Sara burst into tears and finally managed to release the inner pressure she had been subduing.
“Doing this shoot, I also released myself and my heart finally recovered,” says Peng.
Through Peng’s works, it is easy to observe that most are named for girls: “Since I was very young, I always dreamt of being a knight-errant protecting girls. And girls give me a lot of inspiration. That’s why I keep commemorating the girls in my life by using their names,” she says.
Also an outstanding fashion designer, Peng adds: “I will never restrict the ways I express my emotions. Once I decide to do a thing, I will definitely make it perfect.”