Curated by the former ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, Sworn Sisters will be the first exhibition to be held in Australia that features exclusively contemporary Chinese women artists. By including women artists that resist and subvert not only the male gaze, but the male dominated art world, Vermilion Art hopes that the exhibition challenges stereotypes of Chinese woman as submissive and passive homemakers. By extension, Sworn Sisters serves as a kind of intervention, to celebrate and acknowledge female agency and subjectivity within art and broader society.
The title of this exhibition is an indirect translation from the Chinese Nüshu, which literally means ‘women’s writing’. It is a syllabic script derived from Chinese characters that was used exclusively among women in Jiangyong County in Hunan province of southern China, possibly from the 13th century onwards. Many Nüshu works were called ‘third day missives’, which were presented as cloth bound booklets made by ‘sworn sisters’ and mothers, that were then given to other ‘sworn sisters’ or daughters upon their marriage.
Songs in Nüshu were delivered on the third day after the young woman's marriage, and typically expressed the hopes for the happiness of the young woman leaving the village and sorrow for her parting. However, the script was suppressed by the Japanese, during their invasion of China in the 1930s-40s, because they feared that the Chinese could use it to send secret messages.
The exhibition pays homage to this Chinese script as a means to highlight the gender-based obstacles that Chinese women have endure throughout history. Sworn Sisters provides a platform for Chinese women artists to voice their opinions and ideas as they reclaim their female potency through their own unique artistic language.