Home / Zhongguancun Special

Moving house

By Mu Qian | China Daily | Updated: 2007-05-15 06:54

The Mosuo people still preserve a matriarchal family life and the custom called Zouhun, in which lovers do not marry. Instead, the man occasionally visits the woman, stays for the night, and leaves the next morning.

In Mosuo society, it is a woman's world. Women control finances, own property and settle disputes.

This unique culture inspired Dutch artist Mathilde ter Heijne to visit Southwest China's Yunnan Province where she met Mosuo people and learnt more about their culture.

Moving house

Dutch artist Mathilde ter Heijne stands in front of the 200-year-old Mosuo house, the centerpiece of her exhibition, Mosuo Fireplace Goddess, now running in Beijing.
Mu Qian

A Mosuo house became the centerpiece of her exhibition, Mosuo Fireplace Goddess, which is being held until June 2 at Currents - Art and Music, an art space in Beijing's Huantie area.

The 200-year-old house was bought from a Mosuo family in Lijiazui Village of Yanyuan County and was deconstructed and transported to Beijing, where it was reassembled.

In the exhibition, video projections recreate the village environment and the cultural practices of the Mosuo people.

Beside the house, a bronze sculpture in the likeness of the artist is dressed in Mosuo clothes.

Ter Heijne has created many works dealing with the roles of women. Her last project involved photos and profiles of 500 ordinary women in the 19th century from around the world.

"Women are very often forgotten by history, for history is written by men," she said.

So, ter Heijne was fascinated by the matriarchal system of the Mosuo people when she read about it last year, because it's a society not dominated by men, as are most other societies.

Among the Mosuo people, who are officially categorized as a sub-division of the Naxi ethnic group, women don't live with their husbands but stay with their clans, and their brothers care for the children.

Ter Heijne then conceived the idea of "Mosuo Fireplace Goddess", which illustrates that equality between genders is achievable and which may contribute to a better understanding of the Mosuo people and their unique social and cultural systems.

Accompanied by Currents director Sarina Tang, cinematographer Andrea Cavazzutti and photographer Lin Jing in April, ter Heijne visited Lijiazui on the Yunnan and Sichuan provincial border. "The Mosuo live in a so-called 'house-based society'," said ter Heijne.

"This is why I got the idea to exhibit a Mosuo house; it might be the most effective way to display their way of living together."

At first, ter Heijne and Tang wanted to make a replica of a Mosuo house, but at last they decided to buy one. Doing so they could help the family not only build a new house, but also send their children to school.

The family agreed to sell one of their houses but insisted that they keep the fireplace, which symbolizes the family's soul.

It took two days for pieces of the house to be transported by bus to Yongning, the nearest city, and another four days to finally reach Beijing. Two young men of the family and a carpenter from the village came to Beijing to reassemble the house.

With concept and text by ter Heijne, a comic book of stories about the culture, people, history of the Mosuo people is distributed in the exhibition, and also to the schools in the Mosuo villages in Yunnan, for free.

"As the Mosuo have no written language, this is a unique way for children to avail themselves of their own culture," she said.

"Other audiences can also learn about the matriarchal system as practiced by the Mosuo people through this comic book."

Born in 1969 in Strasbourg, France, ter Heijne lives and works in Berlin now. Her works have been shown extensively in Europe and the United States. Most recently, her sculptures were featured at the Shanghai Biennial 2006.

(China Daily 05/15/2007 page18)

Today's Top News

Editor's picks

Most Viewed

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349