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by Furen Dai

15/07/2017 - 15/08/2017

This month The Unstitute is delighted to present the excellent part-documentary/part surrealist-construction 'Language Product' by Chinese artist Furen Dai. Dai has extensively researched into the history of the NüShu language and has incorporated a female language of her own into the unique plight of the NüShu speakers, trapped by the private language they invented to both escape tyrannical patriarchs and to tell their own narratives.

Furen Dai's video work begin with her research on a Secret Women Language called NüShu, which was originated and developed as a secret code among women in Hunan Province, China. Through research she discovered that though the language has lost its functionality, women who know the language have been pressured into performing their cultural activities as entertainment for tourists for menial wages. She has presented a language factory in her video and the act of producing secret women language as art object to sell to people who don't have access to the meaning of the language.

Furen Dai is a Chinese interdisciplinary artist, currently living in Boston, MA, United States. Dai graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University with an undergraduate degree in Russian and from SMFA/Tufts University with an MFA in studio art. She addresses language and literature associated with traditional Chinese culture in her work and is also engaged in a discourse around the position of being between two cultures and a cross-cultural exchange.


What compelled you to explore the 'Women's Script', or NüShu, and what effected you most about their story?

I worked as a Russian-English-Chinese translator before I started studying art, and I've always been very interested in language. I was researching about which type of culture gets destroyed through a cultural revolution, and I found out about this language which I never heard about when I was in China. The town where this language originated was very close to my hometown. I read a lot of books about this language before I visited, and all the books depicted powerful women who created this language to understand the world. To my surprise when I visited, women were not happy that they know this language and don't want to teach it to the next generation, so they don't need to be trapped there. This made me learn more about the role of the women behind all the cultural activities and their true feeling toward this "career", and it also made me question all the other cultural tourism activities in China.

In 'Language Product', a metamorphosis occurs whereby a strategy employed by women to ensure secret communication has become, in essence, a new form of chattel bondage into which they are becoming slowly entombed. In your opinion, what changed in the Chinese political narrative to allow this terrible irony to occur?

While I was walking in that town, there were a lot of old houses from hundreds of years ago with leaking roofs and no electricity. Once, when I was walking down a small alley there, I poked my head into one of the houses, "the grandma" was very unhappy and yelled at me saying "what are you looking at, this whole place is falling apart." Later on I found out why these people are not happy: because the government wants to keep the old houses and wouldn't want to give them new land to build new houses. Local residents are stuck with these old houses and forced to live inside the history for visitors to see. After this visit, I started researching and found out that China is one of the countries that mostly applies heritage status for it's own culture. Even though people would think it's to preserve the culture, but it's really hard not to think about all the benefits of cultural heritage status, the funding from government, the income from tourism, etc. It is a very complicated story in which there are many factors, I'm planning to make another video and a research field trip with a deeper focus on the cultural tourism in China.

The women utilizing the NüShu language found a way to collaborate through a form of encryption. How do you see future strategies unfolding through which people may be able to produce their own narrative against oppressive political and economic forces?

I feel that in a way these women would willingly tell me their story and feelings as a method of passing their narrative; people who hear this story will choose their own way of retelling it to audiences, some will abstract it and tell through a form of art, some through music, film or through a straightforward documentary. There are a lot of restrictions in many countries for film industry or sensoring information in general. Creative people can still figure out a way to speak up and say exactly what they want to say in a subtle and abstract way, or in a bold and aggressive way. There are still a lot of oppressive and nontransparent moments and places in the contemporary society just like hundreds of years ago when women in China didn't have access to education; history always repeated itself but people would find a new way of engaging with new technology in order to speak up for themselves.


The Projection Room at The Unstitute offers a virtual environment for creative experiments and self-empowerment over archaic creative institutions. See who has been selected this month, and find out more about their creative practice. Consider applying to the Participation Programme at The Unstitute.

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