Mother Tongue

2013 – 2014
Watercolour, graphite, audio (26:07)
Dimensions variable

This series of sixteen drawings is based on a 26-minute conversation (above) that I had with my mother and grandmother, exploring the complexities of my own linguistic landscape growing up in Singapore, through the lens of my grandmother's six decades in the country since immigrating from China at the age of 14. My grandmother is illiterate and only speaks in her Southern Chinese dialect, Henghua, while my knowledge of Henghua is rudimentary. My mother had to serve as translator from my English to my grandmother's Henghua and vice versa. Personal, family, national, and colonial histories emerged out of this often-chaotic conversational system spanning three generations of women.

Each drawing depicts its own diagrammatic approach combined with my handwritten thoughts, questions, and memories, representing my fragmented interpretations of the source material and its implications for the definition of my identity. Whether a meticulous recording of who was speaking in which language throughout the conversation, or a meditation on the possibility of loss, or even a record of my own failures to visualise the many interwoven themes of the conversation, every drawing is simultaneously analytical and sentimental. 

This work was exhibited in Points of Experience: Selections from the Visual & Critical Studies Department's Seniors (18 January - 8 February 2014), at the School of Visual Arts Flatiron Gallery.