A lockdown project turned intricate homage to ancestors – the Hocken Collections latest exhibition is a true feast for the eyes.
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland-based artist Bev Moon’s mixed media work, Fortune (a knitted yum cha for my mother’s 90th birthday) forms the centrepiece of the show, which opens on 12 August.
During Auckland’s lockdown in late 2021, Moon began knitting a yum cha banquet to mark what would have been her late mother Yip Sue Yen’s 90th birthday in March 2022, and to honour her grandmother Lee Choy Kee, whose skills of knitting and cooking were passed down the generations.
“While others perfected sourdough, binged on TV series, or went for walks in lockdown, I experimented and did my best to source just the right yarn shades, weights and textures online to create patterns for various wrappers and shapes.
“I folded and stuffed them the way Mum taught me when I helped make yum cha with her, all those years ago. Slowly the number of dishes grew into a feast, and I realised it was an homage of sorts not only to my mother, but my grandmother as well.”
Hocken Librarian Catherine Hammond says Fortune will also include archival material from Hocken Collections, the New Zealand Chinese Heritage Charitable Trust Collection, held in the Presbyterian Research Centre Archives at Knox College, and private collections.
“We are so pleased to be able to bring Bev Moon’s beautiful creation to Dunedin, and are grateful for the support we have received from the Trust and the Otago Southland Chinese Association.”
Hope Wilson, Hocken Collections Curator Art, says some interesting pieces have been found, including a stunning, 5.8 metre-long embroidered banner, gifted to the Hanover Street Baptist Church around 1900 by a Chinese Sunday School class.
“Some of the key themes we are interested to investigate with this exhibition are connections over time between families and communities, and knowledge and skills passed down by generations.”
The Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust is helping fund a national tour of Moon’s work and she says it is “really important” for her to bring Fortune to Ōtepoti Dunedin and the South Island.
Born and raised in Wellington, Moon is descended from Taishanese men who first arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand in the 1880s.
“My great grandfathers on both sides of the family arrived and settled in the Otago region – it was where they first set foot on Aotearoa soil.
“Relatives on my father’s side stayed and made Dunedin their home, including my father’s first cousin Dr Jim Ng, general practitioner and historian. Jim’s archives documenting the early Chinese settlers are now held in both the Hocken and the Presbyterian Research Centre at Knox College,” she says.
While the knitted yum cha may look appealing, Moon says behind it is the little-known story of the 500 Chinese women and children permitted into New Zealand as refugees between 1939 and 1941.
“In China they faced years of poverty, isolation and uncertainty separated from the men who had settled in New Zealand years earlier, and it was only the breakout of the Sino-Japanese War that opened the door for these lucky 500 to join their husbands and fathers on the other side of the world.
“I hope that people visiting the exhibition will learn more about the Chinese poll tax and the lives of the early Chinese settlers – the hardships they faced, the effort, sheer hard work and resilience it took to make their lives in a new land.”
Guest speaker, former Chair of the Dunedin Shanghai Association and current Chair of the Dunedin Chinese Gardens Trust, Malcom Wong, will open the exhibition, at which members of the Otago Southland Chinese Association will perform a lion dance.
A public paper lantern and fortune cat workshop will also be held at the Hocken on Saturday, August 12, from 10am to 12 noon. This workshop is free and open to all ages.
On from 12 August to 21 October 2023, Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 3pm, at the Hocken Gallery, 90 Anzac Ave, Ōtepoti Dunedin, phone 03 479 8868 www.otago.ac.nz/hocken