Bound Feet Blues tells stories from my family’s past as passed down the generations by the women – my mum, my great-grandmother, my auntie. In researching these stories for the show – and also the book that I am currently working on – I looked through my personal photo albums and also asked my mum to send me photos from hers. It was fascinating to watch my family and I evolve, grow up and grow old over the years.
So when I came across this photo project of four sisters photographed every year for forty years by Nicholas Nixon, I was captivated. The forty photos are intimate, moving, poignant.
Susan Minot in this NY Times article says:
“Throughout this series, we watch these women age, undergoing life’s most humbling experience. While many of us can, when pressed, name things we are grateful to Time for bestowing upon us, the lines bracketing our mouths and the loosening of our skin are not among them. So while a part of the spirit sinks at the slow appearance of these women’s jowls, another part is lifted: They are not undone by it. We detect more sorrow, perhaps, in the eyes, more weight in the once-fresh brows. But the more we study the images, the more we see that aging does not define these women. Even as the images tell us, in no uncertain terms, that this is what it looks like to grow old, this is the irrefutable truth, we also learn: This is what endurance looks like.”
Do go over to the NY Times article and look at all 40 photos.
Where do we come from? WHO do we come from? Our family history can give us our identity, shape how we view ourselves and our place in the world.
I am so grateful to my 13 year old self. Because in 1976, I asked my Grandpa to tell me about our family history and I recorded it on a tape recorder. In that recording, he tells the story of how his grand-father, my great-great grandfather, came to Malaya (now Malaysia) from China. He died the following year. It is the only family recording we have of Grandpa’s voice and it is the official account of the story of our family (on my mother’s side).
You can listen to the recording via the player below. (The recording was first published on my previous blog Fusion View)
My Grandpa carrying me
In addition to this recording I have recordings of my Grandma and also reams of notes of stories and conversations with other aged relations, collected over time.
Now I am 51+ – about the same age as my Grandpa was in the photo above. My fascination with my family heritage has led me to create Bound Feet Blues, the story performance. I am also writing a book telling the Stories Behind the Story of the show – which will include the story about the Bandit Boy that Grandpa refers to in the recording. Not only has my interest in my family history sparked my creativity, it has also given me a sense of who I am and my place in the world.
Audiences for Bound Feet Blues seem fascinated by the family stories portrayed in the show – and I think this is as much because it prompts them to reflect on their own family and their relationship with their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents as it is to do with any particular interest in the specifics of my family. Many people have said to me that they wish they knew more about their own family history.
If you are interested in your family history, Continue reading
Here’s a short video interview of me talking about the inspirations behind Bound Feet Blues and the challenges of bringing it to the stage.
It was filmed just after the Heritage Panel that I took part in, discussing the role of heritage in South East Asian Performance with Anna Nguyen of Trikhon Theatre and Elaine Foo of TrueHeart Theatre.
There’s also a short snippet of me performing a scene from the show for the audience at the Heritage Panel.
I have been working on the slides for my talk The Allure of Bound Feet, which I will be giving as part of the SEA ArtsFest 2014 Panel on Heritage in Asian Diasporic Performance.
Here is one of my slides where I will be talking about the process of footbinding and the fact that it can take up to ten years to be fully completed. The photos show girls at different ages with bound feet to illustrate the passing of time.
At the moment I have about 17 slides in total. The other slides will include woodcuts of ancient Chinese erotica – you can’t really talk about footbinding without talking about the sex appeal of the tiny foot – and also cross-gender Continue reading