“This was not the life I was meant to have…” – Bound Feet Blues Performance Photo

In Bound Feet Blues, writer/ performer tells the story of her great-grandmother in China who had bound feet. This performance photo from the showcase night in Oct last year, shows Yang-May enacting a scene of this bound foot woman from her family’s history: “This was not the life I was meant to have…!”

** Bound Feet Blues is NOW ON  at the Tristan Bates Theatre until Sat 12 December 2015. Don’t miss this “mesmerising” and “powerful” show – buy tickets below or via bit.ly/bfbtickets **



**You can buy tickets for Bound Feet Blues via bit.ly/bfbtickets **


Tristan Bates Theatre Continue reading

Introducing the world of Bound Feet Blues: the Australian Outback

Bound Feet Blues is a solo theatre performance – but on an epic scale. Writer/ performer Yang-May Ooi takes the audience across continents from Asia to Europe and Australia. We’ll be sharing with you the landscapes of Bound Feet Blues here on this blog over the next few weeks. Today, the vast desert scenery of the Australian Outback.

In Bound Feet Blues, the open skies and vast desert of Australia gives Yang-May’s younger self a freedom she never had in the narrower landscapes of London and Oxford…

Australian Outback – Photo from flickr.com, thanks to Mark Wassell – https://www.flickr.com/photos/61520356@N07/ (CCL0

Uluru – once known as Ayers Rock . From flickr.com, thanks to Rita Willaert – https://www.flickr.com/photos/rietje/ (CCL)

A pivotal moment in Bound Feet Blues occurs on the precipice at Kings Canyon, Australia – photo from flickr.com thanks to Los viajes del Cangrejo – https://www.flickr.com/photos/viajescangrejo/ (CCL)


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4 Sisters over 40 years – Women’s History Month

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.

<p>2007, Cataumet, Mass.</p>

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.

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Sweet Vintage Photo of Butch and Femme Japanese-style

Bound Feet Blues is as much about my own personal coming out story as it is about the story of great-grandmother with bound feet. Footbinding in the show is a metaphor for the binding up of who we really are, of our natural selves, in order to fit into an social construct of what a woman should be.

The story also explores how I used to be a tomboy and what that meant for me in terms of freedom vs constraint, power vs restriction, heartfelt love vs pretending to be someone I was not. For me, coming out was the ultimate act of unbinding and personal empowerment – signified by the freedom to wear whatever I choose, whether fully female or male attire or an androgynous combination of both….

Two Japanese women featuring vintage cross-dressing.


This vintage photo shows two Japanese women, one in female clothing, the other in man’s clothes. I’ve not been able to Continue reading

Chilling photo of a castrated Eunuch of Ancient China

While women in Ancient China had to endure their feet being broken and bound in order to conform to the traditional Chinese cultural ideal of feminine beauty, some men endured castration in order to rise in the ranks of power.

This is a chilling photo of what castration meant for a man of that time

Eunuch-is a castrated man. In ancient China, castration was a traditional punishment or a means of gaining employment. During the Ming Dynasty there were 70,000 eunuchs, some by self-castration. Some of these individuals had powers that were greater than those of the prime ministers. Self-castration became illegal and by 1912, less than 500 eunuchs existed and their jobs ended. Eunuchs castrated before puberty were valued for their exceptional high pitch voices.


According to  Green 9999 on Pinterest:

Eunuch-is a castrated man. In ancient China, castration was a traditional punishment or a means of gaining employment. During the Ming Dynasty there were 70,000 eunuchs, some by self-castration. Some of these individuals had Continue reading

Storytellers Photography Project by Paul Cox

Earlier this year, photographer Paul Cox came over to take a series of photos of me for a photography project focusing on storytellers. He was travelling around the South East of England taking pictures of storytellers in their natural habitat – or rather the places where they got their inspiration. Among the storytellers he had collected were those who specialised in folk tales, myths and legends and local places. I was his only subject whose work is around personal narrative with an East Asian twist.

It was fascinating to watch him work, using a medium format camera and film – yes, film! It was one of those old fashioned looking cameras that you look down at. He also used a light meter. It all felt very charming and old fashioned!

Here is another of the shots below… These pics show me in my garden where  Continue reading

Fascinating historical photos of women with bound feet in my upcoming talk The Allure of Bound Feet

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

The Last Bound Feet Women of China [video]

Photographer Jo Farell is documenting the last women in China with bound feet. This timely and important project tells the stories of these last remaining women who suffered the brutal practice of footbinding through intimate and respectful black and white photos.

This video gives an overview of the project and also outlines some the history and reasons for this ancient Chinese social tradition.

She funded this project via Continue reading

Yang-May Ooi: My great-grandmother with bound feet [Bound Feet Blues]

This photo hangs on the wall in my study. It reminds me of my freedom to walk where I choose, to stride through my life, to stand on my own two feet
Bound Feet Blues - Yang-May Ooi: My great-grandmother with bound feet

Decades after the practice of bound feet died out, women are still mutilating their bodies in the name of beauty [Bound Feet Blues]

This is a fascinating article about Chinese photographer Ji Yeo and her project to photograph women in the recovery room just after cosmetic surgery – See http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2014/mar/18/ji-yeo-cosmetic-surgery-frontline

According to the Guardian, she hated her body when she was younger – which was tied into her low self esteem –  and looked into having cosmetic surgery.

She didn’t have the surgery but started the Beauty Recovery Room photography project instead, taking photos of women just after cosmetic surgery.

A shot from Ji Yeo's Beauty Recovery Room series

As I’ve been thinking about bound feet and why women in China did that to themselves for my story performance Bound Feet Blues, I’ve been so much more aware of issues around women and their self esteem, body image, the role of fashion as power and body mutilation/ modification.

This project is particularly striking for me because it involves Chinese and East Asian women – symbolically making Continue reading