Quilt LocationQuilt address: Singapore
00/00/0000 - In the 1930s, a large number of Samsui women came to Singapore to work as coolies at construction sites because of extreme poverty back home in China. Many were young in their late teens but had married when they left home. Every dawn, wearing their red headgear, they squatted along "Tofu" street in Chinatown, waiting for work. Today, no Samsui woman is able to tell us for sure who had started the practice of wearing these red headgear, but all are certain it was worn to shield their locks from the sun and dust, because they washed their hair only a couple of times in a month. Red symbolizes good luck in the Chinese belief and hence the color was meant to give these women protection in their work, which was arduous and dangerous in nature. They made about 60 cents a day and got no pay if they were not assigned jobs. They still managed to save while sending home a portion of their pay. Hence, they ate very simply; at times only rice with coffee. Many did wish to return home after a few years but later gave up the idea as they adapted to life in Singapore. Many have confided in us that they would not have enjoyed so much freedom if they had gone home. There are not many living ones today. Theirs was not a glorious past, but is that reason enough to write them off our history? Or what value in them do we want to celebrate? We cannot answer these questions, unless we take a personal interest in rediscovering why they left home, what they brought with them, what they did in everyday life that tied them to their homes? The ‘Crowning’ is a stitch by stitch record of my personal interaction with and observation of the retired Samsui women. The motivation of fully hand-stitching the quilt instead of machining it was drawn from the mundane part and parcels of the women’ life. Yet, as an artist, I acknowledge the time it takes to make each stitch. And I expect the stitch to “earn its keep,” to provide a visual and visceral impact, not always on first impression, but as an additional delight upon further study. .
Contributor: Mei Ling lee