• Featured Writer/Artist

“衣草 (衣紙) I / Yee Chau I”

by Karlie Wu

This series studies traditional Chinese - primarily Taoist – practices and religious rituals, such as ancestor veneration, which involves burning incense and joss paper. The purpose of burning incense allows one to communicate wishes and thoughts to deities and ancestors, while burning Joss Paper in the form of money, clothes, items and charms is a means of sending objects to loved ones for use in the afterlife. It is believed that by taking care of the ancestors, their spirits will in turn watch and guide future generations.

However this is quickly disappearing amongst the younger generation who regard these age-old traditions as superstitious, out-dated, and environmentally unfriendly. Yet the continued production of such paper objects reflects the willingness to adapt to the demands of today’s society: paper versions of McDonalds, Apple gear and even luxury commodities like cars and designer handbags are now available. While some of the contemporary renditions of these paper ephemera can come across as gimmicky, the practice of ancestor veneration still seems, on the contrary, to be as strong as ever; even those that have moved on still need their smartphone in the afterlife…

‘衣草’ in Hakka (衣紙 in Cantonese) is the paper garment that is burned.

Karlie Wu is an artist based in Glasgow, exploring themes of nostalgia and cultural identity. Wu’s interest in nostalgia stems from the folk tales and reminisces of older relatives and her own interactions with Kat O, a near abandoned island between the north east of Hong Kong and China, a former bustling fishing village which her paternal family emigrated from. Additionally, Hong Kong’s inextricable connection to British colonialism, coupled with Wu’s Scottish upbringing, drives the artist to navigate the term ‘cultural identity’. Much of Wu’s work delves into the identity of being British/Scottish-Chinese, its expectations and misconceptions, and the reality of this lived experience.

Paintings and drawings evoke consideration of, and gives prominence to spaces and scenes that are often dismissed as banal, traditional, or literally abandoned: the drawing series on Chinese Takeaway interiors which are rarely seen or interacted with directly; or the paintings and video documentation of Hakka and Taoist religious and cultural events and rituals; in all of which Wu observes, probes and presents a glimmer of what it might mean to be Scottish or British, and being British Chinese.

Being Asian (HK Hakka Chinese) and raised in a rather traditional household has led Wu to explore ways to capture the customs and cultural knowledge that she has access to but are gradually disappearing with its decreased popularity and lack of documentation. In her arts practice, she aims to further explore her own heritage, and record what may be a shared British Chinese experience - or wider HK Chinese experience.

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