As I sew my drawings; memories of times and places in China into a funerary shirt sent to me from a friend in Xian, I am thinking about the women who slave over tiny, beautifully embroidered designs on clothes from China, India and Bangladesh; beaded, stitched, embroidered flowers and fruits. Things of beauty that sell at Rainbow and Dee Dee and even in the 99 cent stores on Manhattan Avenue. Things of beauty that are disposable for me that took time and skill to make. Things of beauty that the makers will never be able to afford, and will never be able to enjoy. I think, as I sew, of the luxury of time that I have, of the luxury of choice. I think about how it would be to do this work under extreme pressure and threats and to have one’s whole life and that of one’s family depend on the speed and precision of each stitch. The drive to work for the sake of working, the drive to wards efficiency, to profit, has its roots in the Protestant work ethic of my family culture. It is the root of what is now a global capitalism, a global, unequal sweatshop for the pleasure of a very few. That work ethic has driven me for years, towards an unattainable perfectionism that has threatened to kill my joy, and my soul. It drove me to study Chinese. I thought I would be learning a language. What I entered was a whole new world that changed me forever. Where I thought I needed to learn a new verb, I got a friend. Where I thought I had to get a tone just right, I learned a lifelong lesson about sharing and community.
Funeral is a sending away of my old way of thinking, of the pressured, driven way of being, in exchange for a gentle, human and relationship-oriented way of being.
Dictionary Dress is made of the dictionary that I carried with me over three continents in ten years in hopes of attaining perfection in Chinese. At any moment, I thought, I might be able to improve and get one step closer…… The qipao, although universally considered beautiful, restrains a woman’s movements, the way my pursuit of perfection limited my capacity to fully experience life.