COMMANDMENTS FOR WOMEN

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Press Release

Commandments for Women
Furen Dai

June 14-June 16,  2019
Opening Friday, June 14, 6-9pm

Assembly Room Sidewalk Cellar is excited to present an exhibition curated by Vicki Sun, Commandments for Women, a site-specific installation by Furen Dai.

During the Han Dynasty of Imperial China, a text was written outlining the status and position of women in society. Titled Lessons for Women (女诫, circa 80 CE), the book describes four precepts for women: proper virtue, proper speech, proper countenance, and proper conduct. Eventually, the book was used as a national text for all women in the late Ming and Qing Dynasties. By today’s standards, the text seems highly unfeminist, with codes of conduct that place women squarely in the position of an obedient wife, mother, and daughter. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that the text was in fact written by a woman, the first known Chinese woman historian and poet Ban Zhao (班昭). 

The text takes on new meaning as we consider this fact. Could it potentially be seen as advocating for women through Zhao’s application of Confucian principles to women? Or should it be taken at face value, with its rules leaving barely any emotional, psychological, and political space for women to exist beyond their social responsibility as a wife, mother, and daughter? 

With a background in linguistics, artist Furen Dai mines the nuances of language through her multidisciplinary research-based work. Her video series Commandments for Womenexamines the questions that arise from Zhao’s text. What does the conversation between generations of Chinese women look like? What does the generation gap look like when elder generations of women pass these rules on to younger generations of women (who may seek a more feminist existence)? What are the ways in which this text has held women back in Chinese history or integrated them into society through Confucian principles? This exhibition aims to bring more awareness to this document from Chinese history and further examine the gendered expectations of women over time. 

Vicki Sun is an independent curator whose research interests include systems of exchange and the groups of people who get left behind in these economic structures, strategies of survival from marginalized peoples, and the visual culture that emerges in response to a dominant culture. In her curatorial projects, she aims to shed light on power structures that might attempt to dampen these voices. She holds a BA in Art History and Political Science from Northwestern University and an MA in Archaeology and Art History from Koç University.

Furen Dai is a Brooklyn-based artist born in Hunan, China. Her practice has focused largely on the economy of culture industry, and how languages lose function, usage, and history. Dai’s hybrid art practice utilizes video, sound, sculpture, painting, and collaboration. Her years as a professional translator and interest in linguistic studies have guided her artistic practice since 2015. She has exhibited work at the National Art Center, Tokyo; Athens Digital Arts Festival, Greece; International Video Art Festival Now&After, Moscow, Russia; and Edinburgh Artists’ Moving Image Festival, Scotland, amongst others. Dai received her BA from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and her MFA from School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. She is currently a resident of the International Studio & Curatorial Program.

Curated by Vicki Sun

Photo: Cheng Gong

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