“Tao’s works memorialise the unrecorded lives of women who were expected to be silent and subservient to their fathers and husbands in a world ordered by Confucian rules of behaviour.” – Luise Guest
HER SECRET CODE: Tao Aimin and Nüshu
The first of three solo shows by Chinese female artists
In this time of a continuing “#MeToo” reckoning, and a long overdue reappraisal of the work of female artists, Vermilion Art celebrates the work of women with three significant solo shows in March to July 2023. The first of these exciting exhibitions features the work of Hunan-born, Beijing-based artist Tao Aimin, showing in Australia for the first time. “Her Secret Code: Tao Aimin and Nüshu”, curated by Dr Luise Guest, will be followed later in the year with an exhibition of Melbourne-based figurative painter Echo Cai, and a return exhibition of the work of Sydney Biennale artist Geng Xue. These artists use very different techniques and media but they are connected by a common thread: each artist explores female histories and subjectivities.
“I was telling women’s stories with two languages.” (Artist Tao Aimin)
Inspired by a little-known historical “secret” language, Chinese contemporary artist Tao Aimin reflects on the resilience and creative energy of women. Hundreds of years ago in remote mountain villages in China, illiterate footbound women invented a script to write down the joys and sorrows of their lives. Their slanted, hook-like calligraphy, which some believe was developed from embroidery stitches, was called Nüshu. It was embroidered onto fans and belts, and written in letters exchanged between mothers and daughters, and (often secretly) between friends called “sworn sisters”.
Sydney audiences will have the opportunity to see Tao Aimin’s very contemporary works, developed from her years of research in rural China and her own study of this written text form, in “Her Secret Code: Tao Aimin and Nüshu”, opening on 30th March 2023.
Tao’s works memorialise the unrecorded lives of women who were expected to be silent and subservient to their fathers and husbands in a world ordered by Confucian rules of behaviour. She collected the wooden washboards once used to scrub laundry (often beside lakes or rivers) before electricity and washing machines became common in the countryside. From these she created works such as “River of Women”, an installation of weathered old washboards on which she painted portraits of the wrinkled, timeworn faces of the women who had given them to her. She later used the washboards as printing and painting surfaces.
We might imagine that we hear the voices of these women, so confined by the patriarchal society that decreed they were to be “upstairs girls”, but so resilient that they invented their own written language. As Tao says, “Nüshu is a kind of language, and washboards are also a kind of language. I was telling women’s stories with two languages.”
Tao Aimin says: “The effect of the ink print on the washboard is like water, and women’s destiny is also like water”.
Vermilion Art will exhibit works from Tao Aimin’s important “Women’s Journal” and “In an Instant” series made using this unusual technique. “Her Secret Code: Tao Aimin and Nüshu” will also include Tao’s recent paintings on paper fans.
“We have presented two group exhibitions of woman artists, Sworn Sisters (curated by Geoff Raby AO) in 2018 and Dorveille in 2021. This trilogy of solo exhibitions is an important development of the thinking. Dr Yeqin Zuo, the director of Vermilion Art says, “The first exhibition, “Her Secret Code: Tao Aimin and NÜSHU” is the best example of works by Chinese woman artists who take the powerful tradition with them and inject contemporary meaning.”
Curator of “Her Secret Code: Tao Aimin and NÜSHU”, Dr Luise Guest, says, “Having first met Tao Aimin in Beijing in 2013 and focusing on her work in my doctoral research I am so excited that Sydney audiences will be able to discover how she takes little-known female histories and creates works that resonate with the contemporary world.”