arthead sf

arthead sf blog was created to bring readers the meaning behind the art. These are not critiques or interviews with artists. Each feature is written entirely by the artist, revealing only what they feel and want readers to know about the featured piece. If you see a piece of art you'd like to know the meaning behind...email me. And subscribe to my blog below to get updates when new features are posted!


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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sheau Wha Mou Keefe


"Given Wings"
9"x12"
Photo intaglio with hard ground, spitbite, and sugarlift on BFK Rives paper

This piece was inspired by an ongoing series that I have been working on that examines the history of four generations of first born women in my family from my great grandmother during late imperial China, my grandmother during the revolution, my mother as a young immigrant student, and me as a ".5 generation" Chinese-American woman. Given Wings began as a dialog between me and the memory of my great grandmother—of her bound feet, of her oppression under the family of her husband, of her beauty and bondage, and ultimate freedom when my grandmother brought her to America in her last years. I see this cross-cultural story as a microcosmic example of a shared human identity.

I had difficulty finding the key image for this piece because most family photos and records were destroyed or lost during the tumultuous years of the Sino-Japanese War and Communist takeover. However, in my research I found this stunning image of a woman of the same era, an
actress, probably from Shanghai in the early 1900’s. I chose her for her tiny bound feet, her resolute expression, which impassive yet weighted, and for her cocoon-like clothing and bearing. Her wings are actually made of the x-rayed images of the shattered and deformed bones of a
bound foot—at once broken and suffering yet beautiful and ephemeral. I hoped to juxtapose the visible external against the secret internal life of a woman during this time of great change: of push and pull between East and West, bondage and liberation for women, and the fall of the last
dynasty and rise of more populist ideals.

I wanted to represent this image of woman as heroic and saintly, hence the Buddhist halo around the head, which references one of the basic tenets of Buddhism that all life is suffering yet there is hope for release. The butterflies at her tiny bound feet mirror this idea in the blood red of
pain, and in the symbolism that as cocoons they are constrained and bound only to break free through metamorphosis as creatures of beauty and flight.

Despite the personal and sometimes painful subject matter, I really had great fun making this piece!! It took me about 20 hours to produce this edition, and I enjoyed using so many processes in combination on three plates. I hope that this work gives others a sense of a shared historical memory or new view of an unfamiliar history in a way that unifies us in our humanity as creatures of this universe.

By Sheau Wha Mou Keefe

Thanks Sheau Wha for your contribution of this piece of art to the Silent Auction benefiting Kiva.org!!

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