“My father told me, ‘Be moved by the culture and history of the land where you live.’ That’s why I decided to show the world our Hakka culture through my art.”
Born 1978, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Much of Chung Shun-Wen’s work is inspired by her grandmother, Chung Tai-Mei, and the Taiwanese Hakka culture that she came from. The artist’s grandfather, a poor but esteemed writer, died in his 40s, leaving his widow to raise four children alone. Chung Tai-Mei’s life had always been a struggle: she lost her father at 14 and had to leave school to support her brothers and sisters. Yet she retained a beauty, dignity and elegance that were embodied in the fine fabrics, soft colours and floral patterns of her signature cheongsams and shirts. Chung Shun-Wen says her stern, wise and loving grandmother remains her role model: “She taught me to believe in myself and be brave. She used to tell us that no obstacle is insurmountable.” The year after she died, at the age of 97, the artist began painting Grandmother’s Clothes (2009-10), making detailed close-ups that include pockets, edgings, seams and fastenings as well as patterns. She makes her own “glue-colour”, or eastern gouache, paint, using her fingers to mix mineral pigments into a gelatin binder. The process, which she describes as “a kind of ritual”, subtly invokes the wizened fingers that once buttoned up these neatly folded shirts.