Shu-Ju Wang: The Laundry Maze, February 13-March 16, 2012. Installation view. Portland, Oregon: Regional Arts & Culture Council, 2012.
The Chinese laundry is an iconic thread of early China-to-US immigration story. Portland artist Shu-Ju Wang used this history in her installation The Laundry Maze to start a conversation about one aspect of immigration-that of the immigrants’ changing professional identities. In months leading up to the installation Wang reached out to immigrant communities through personal contact, ESL classes, and adult literacy programs to ask for descriptions of the professions and jobs people had before and after they immigrated. Each pair of responses was then sewn onto a shirt and built into a maze that refers to the maze of twists and turns one must negotiate to move from one country to another. Sketches of natural national boundaries-mountains, rivers, and oceans-are painted on the back of each shirt.
“I started this project with the 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. My grandfather emigrated 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.”
Courtesy of Regional Arts & Culture Council Installation Space Program. © the Artist.
Artist Credit: Shu-Ju Wang
Exhibition: Regional Arts & Culture Council Installation Space Program; Sho-Ju Wang: The Laundry Maze, February 13-March 16, 2012