Monday, February 13, 2012

The Laundry Maze is up!



The Laundry Maze

The Portland Building Lobby
1120 SW 5th Avenue
Portland, Oregon

7am to 6pm, Monday through Friday
February 13 - March 16, 2012

Join me and walk through The Laundry Maze on these days

February 16, Thursday, 11am to 1pm
February 23, Thursday, 1pm to 3pm
March 2, Friday, 10am to noon
March 7, 11am to 1pm
March 13, Tuesday, 11am-1pm

I will be adding new material to the maze each week.

What is The Laundry Maze?

The Chinese laundry is an iconic thread of early China-to-US immigration story, and The Laundry Maze references this history to start a conversation about one aspect of immigration — that of the immigrants' changing professional identities.

Over the past few months, I reached out to immigrant communities through personal contacts, ESL classes, and adult literacy programs in Portland and also in other parts of the US. From each participant, I asked for brief descriptions/titles of their professions and jobs before and after they immigrated. Each pair of responses are then sewn on a shirt. Sketches of natural national boundaries — mountains, rivers, and oceans — are painted on the back of each shirt.

At the time of the exhibition's opening date on Feb 13, I have received about 70 pairs of job titles or descriptions. More data continue to arrive, and I will add these to the installation as they come in.

I started this project with a preconception — that most immigrants' after professions tend to be lower in prestige or social status when compared to their before positions. While this is true in some cases, I also find that many people are able to make lateral transitions, sometimes after a few years of additional schooling. Many participants are in this process now — either working or unemployed, but going to school.

As you walk through the maze, you can read and share the immigrants' experiences of changing professions. On another level, the format of the maze creates a sense of mystery and disorientation, sensations familiar to people finding their way in a new country.

At this point, I would also like to share a personal story. My grandfather immigrated from mainland China to Taiwan in the 1930s. After he married my grandmother, they tried several businesses before they found success with a dry cleaning/laundry business. By the time I came along, it was thriving. There was a room where all the cleaned suits, shirts, pants hung tightly on racks, waiting to be picked up. As children, my sister and I played hide and seek among the racks. Thus the seed for The Laundry Maze was planted.

3 comments:

Susan Gallacher-Turner and Mike Turner said...

what a wonderful story from the personal to the universal. Can't wait to see it.

margaret said...

It was lovely to see you and your piece. I hope to come back for a longer visit when I can read all the stories (i.e., sans Roy!). Neat, provocative work, Shu-Ju.

BTW, am I the only one who never gets the word verifications right?

fingerstothebone said...

So glad you both were able to come yesterday. And Margaret, no, you're not the only person who can't get the word verification right. And I think they're getting harder and harder, too.