2019 - Ongoing
'Words From Dad' is an ongoing series that explores my Dutch/Chinese heritage. With the use of archival images from my own family albums, I trace back my mixed roots through my grandfather’s life stories, as told by my dad. My Chinese roots come from my father’s side of the family. My grandfather Tek Suan Chen was born in 1910 in Wenzhou, China. He was a dignitary and the Chen family were judges and landowners there. Everything had been taken away from them, their possessions and their lives. The whole family was killed by the communists during the Mao Revolution. My grandfather was the only one who survived together with his teacher and cousin Bun Chen. He was just 23 years old when he fled, as a student, from Wenzhou to Europe via France to Germany. Due to the political consequences of the war he eventually ended up in The Netherlands, where he met my grandmother and opened the first Chinese restaurant in The Hague. This then became the two biggest and most important things in his life: his restaurant and his family. Even though I have unfortunately never met my grandfather in person — since he passed away before I was born — I have always had a strong interest in the stories my dad told me about him.
The manufacturing and application of analogue photomontage techniques such as collage, embroidery and weaving is used metaphorically to portray my grandfather's experience of adapting to a new (Western) culture and my dad's multicultural upbringing. In a way, I literally weave the different cultures and experiences together, creating a fusion of their Chinese and Dutch identities. I stitch parts from different images together to depict the fragmentation of my family memory.
I also explore the ancient Chinese belief of the invisible ‘Red String of Fate’ to tell my grandparents' love story. According to the legend, two people connected by the red thread, are destined to meet each other, regardless of place, time, or circumstances. The magical red thread, which is believed to be tied around the ankles, may stretch or tangle, but will never break. The myth is similar to the Western concept of soulmates. It seems like fate: how my grandparents met as complete strangers, from different cultural backgrounds, and did not speak the same language, yet somehow ended up together. I suppose the act of love is a language in itself that speaks on a much deeper level. With the use of red string, I create many connections within the photographs, making the invisible visible.
Some of the photographs feature unfamiliar faces which still leave me with questions. A few of the prints also have short messages or descriptions with names written on the back of them in various languages that I tried to decipher, but they did not clarify or explain much. I manipulate those images to represent this unknowingness and the abstruse and ambiguous relationship I have with them, and those shown within them. I blur and obscure the subjects’ identities through partially cutting into them, adding Chinese red seal ink paste, and overlaying them to recreate a kind of double exposure.