Her Secret Code

30 Mar - 4 May 2023 Tao Aimin

Tao Aimin and Nüshu

Curated by Dr Luise Guest
Featured artist Tao Aimin

Tao Aimin (b.1974) employs an anthropological perspective to explore and create work to tell female histories on the verge of being forgotten.

Inspired by Nüshu, the only inherited women’s script in the world, Tao combines rubbings of traditional washboards, ink painting and Nüshu calligraphy into her artistic practice. This exhibition features work selected from her three important series: In an Instant, Woman’s Journal and Secret Fans.

“Tao Aimin reflects on the resilience and creative energy of women,” said Dr Luise Guest. “She takes little-known female histories and creates works that resonate with the contemporary world.”

Nüshu is the only inherited women’s script in the world. It’s unique. It’s a way of communication between women. From mother to daughter. No boy is taught to learn Nüshu. They have this secret language.” – Tao Aimin

Sworn Sisters and Secret Code

Dr Luise Guest

Hundreds of years ago, secluded women in remote mountain villages of southern China invented a form of writing. Denied formal literacy, mothers and grandmothers taught Nüshu, or ‘women’s script’, to their daughters after their feet were bound and before they were married. Their writing was kept secret from men, who dismissed it as ugly insect-like markings: a ‘fly-headlike tiny script that no man can read’. Certainly, its slanting, hook-like strokes appear very different to the fluid strokes of Chinese characters, but women used the script to communicate the joys and sorrows of their lives, writing poems, songs, heartfelt letters and the books called san zhao shu. These ‘Third Day Missives’ were given to young brides by their sworn sisters, friends to whom they were formally connected from early childhood. Very few now remain, as they were meant to be burnt when their recipient died. The arrangements to connect young girls as sworn sisters (jiebai) were as formal as betrothals, sometimes across villages; they allowed cloistered women to forge connections beyond their own kinship networks, as this Nüshu poem shows:

Fate grants us the chance to form a pact of friendship.

As the golden chicken faces the phoenix.

Intelligent gentle lady of the jade tower,

Are you willing to make this tie?

View Artist Page >

Tao Aimin and Nüshu

In an Instant No.8 and Secret Fan – Octagonal Flower, installation view

‘Her Secret Code’ installation view

In an Instant No.9 (detail)

Woman’s Journal No.24 (detail)

In an Instant No.10 (detail)

In an Instant No.7 (detail)

Woman’s Journal No.19 (detail)

In an Instant No.8 (detail)

Interview with Dr Luise Guest (full ver.)

Interview Trailer | Dr Luise Guest and Dr Geoff Raby AO

MCA Chair Lorraine Tarabay opens 'Her Secret Code'

Trailer | Hidden Letters

Vermilion Art

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