Fiona Koh Li Ping
‘三字经(San Zi Jing)’(2020)
Video installation 
3 minutes, 10 seconds

During the COVID-19 lockdown, artist Fiona Koh Li Ping found her practice migrate from her workspace to her mother’s kitchen. She realised her mother had not been affected much by the lockdown: as a homemaker in Singapore, she had been confined to the domestic sphere all her life. Able to observe and interact with her more during this period, Fiona discovered that her mother had never written a word in her entire life. Like many Southeast Asian women of her generation, she’d never been given the opportunity to have an education. Seen as domestic labourers, girls like Fiona’s mother learned to cook, clean, sew and babysit in preparation for marriage, while their brothers went to school.

In ‘三字经(San Zi Jing)’, Fiona explores her mother’s identity as a homemaker. Artist takes on the role of teacher, using a book known as the Three Character Classic to show her mother how to write Chinese characters. As well as basic Mandarian literacy, this book is used to teach children Confucian values, including filial piety and respect for one’s elders.

“The process of us writing together is meaningful and important. [My mother’s] first interpretation of the Chinese characters from memory is interesting as it looks like actual Chinese characters. To her, writing these characters is like creating a drawing.”—Fiona Koh Li Ping