From Jewellery to Textiles: Become a part of a living archive that tells your story as a British Chinese Woman

British-born Chinese artist, Denise Kwan, has embarked on a PhD project at the University of Westminster to explore the relationship between people and their objects.

More specifically, the stories that surface from objects belonging to the first and second generation of British Chinese women living in London.

Denise feels that little attention is given to British Chinese women who deserve to have their stories remembered and shared with a wider audience. As a result, she is creating a digital archive to preserve the experiences and journeys of British Chinese women through the personal possession they have kept.

“Objects are fundamental in remembering where we have been and who we are.”

Denise Kwan- Doctoral Researcher PhD

Of course, for a project of this nature there needs to be contributors, and this is where your help is needed! Denise is inviting you to become part of this living archive, to tell your story and share your experience of living in Britain as a British Chinese woman.

What were the first things that were brought to Britain by you or your family? What might represent your cultural journey as a British Chinese woman? Let personal possessions such as jewellery, photos, clothes, food items and other everyday objects tell your story.

A Wardrobe of Inspiration

Usually when we want to know about people’s stories, we will turn towards a well-trodden path of using books and libraries. In Denise’s case, she only had to look into her wardrobe to find that it unlocked a world of hidden and forgotten stories about her Chinese mother and her journey to Britain. “In my own wardrobe, I came across a two-piece pyjama set. Its unlike anything I own because you can tell they are hand-made, the style is unusual and they’re made from good quality cotton. 30 years on, they still look brand new.” says Denise. “I didn’t know where they came from, so I asked my mum and it turns out that these pyjamas were the original clothes that she brought over with her from Hong Kong almost 30 years ago.”

Between mother and daughter, the conversation about the pyjamas became a way for Aina, Denise’s mother, to recall and reflect on her hopes and aspirations for her new life in Britain before settling in a small Welsh town in 1982. By talking about the clothing and in sharing the story was an invaluable way for Denise to understand the questions that her mother faced on immigrating to Britain at the age of 21. It helped Denise to better understand the migratory experience of her mother and in turn, it gave a historical and physical context to her identity as a British-born Chinese woman.

“All objects, whether they are clothing, jewellery, textiles and even food items are powerful and physical ways of talking about our own journeys and experiences because these objects have witnessed the past” says Denise. The realisation that objects are always connected to the journeys and stories of people was the starting point of this PhD research.

These object stories will eventually be recorded in an online archive dedicated to the experiences of British Chinese women across two generations. Being an artist as well, she would also like to invite people to take part in an art workshop that relates to the creative story telling of an object. “It’s so important that the voices of British Chinese women living in contemporary Britain are heard. I’m really excited to hear their stories and to see what things they will bring.”

Are you interested? Would you like to share your story in the archive?

Be a part of an archival project that explores the past, present and future of British Chinese Women over two generations through personal objects.

If you are a British Chinese woman living in London and would like to contribute your object-story or you’d like to know more about the project, please email Denise on [email protected] by the 20th March 2017.

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