At the end of the 19th century, thanks to the silk trade, numerous women in Southern China became financially independent. As Imperial China began to crumble and instability spread, some women took the initiative of adopting independence permanently as Comb Sisters. The Comb Up ceremony involved bathing with mulberry leaves as a fellow Sister braided their hair. They took a vow of chastity, declaring themselves free of obligations towards their parents, and would henceforth wear their hair in a long braid and dress in a light-colored tunic and dark trousers. Choosing to live a life independent of men was not without its drawbacks. Many traveled across Southeast Asia to work as nannies and domestic help. This project is a love letter to my nanny, 87-year old Mak, who worked for my family for nearly 40 years. Starting from the mere 8 photographs Mak had of herself, the multimedia project is an exploration of her extraordinary life, working closely with her over a period of nearly 7 years. Her story is slowly revealed through a combination of my own family archive, found photographs from her extended families, new photographs, Chinese ink works, and women’s magazines from China spanning 6 decades.
Exhibition curator: Duan Yuting.
Publication: Combing for Ice and Jade, Jiazazhi Press, 2019.
Prints and framing by Atelier SHL, Arles.
Winner of Photo Folio Review 2018.