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"A Genealogy in Silk: The Lai Mah Family Album 1915 to 1968"
2001-01-21 until 2001-03-02
Design Gallery, UC Davis
Davis, CA, USA United States of America

This exhibit focuses on the clothing contained in the Lai Mah Family Collection, from the founding days of Chinas first republic through the major revision of immigration laws and the rise of the Asian-American movement in the late 60s. Worn by Mah Cheung Siu San and Lai Cheung Wai Fong, the collection includes more than thirty rare, never-before exhibited garments which exemplify the swiftly changing styles, technological advances and mores of early twentieth century Chinese communities in Hong Kong and Fresno, California. The Revolution of 1911 signaled the end of older social structures and rules in China, as Western values, attitudes, and styles grew to be admired and emulated.

The traditional styles which had enveloped the figures of cloistered Chinese women and the societal norm that required foot-binding could no longer be enforced. As they were allowed to venture outside their homes, younger women began to choose more tapered, economical clothing. Reflecting the quickly changing tastes of a society in flux, a rapid succession of clothing styles followed, with myriad changes in fabric, cut, design, and detailing. The exhibition will begin with early twentieth-century examples of Chinese womens ao (side-closing upper garments), qun (skirts), ku (pants), and gua (center-closing jackets). In the late 1920s, the qipao (Manchu bannerwomans dress) evolved into what is now commonly known as the cheong sam, (Cantonese dialect). The development of the seductive cheong sam -and the cosmopolitan lifestyle that inspired it -may surprise those who believe it to be a traditional Chinese garment. These cheong sam were made of unusual impregnated silk gauzes, brocades, printed damasks, and burnt out velvets. The exhibit will also include fans, makeup cases, and other personal effects from this period. Later, due to wartime dislocation, the postwar political climate, and acculturation, cheong sam incorporated American fabrics, trims and construction. In order to focus on the art of tailoring and the design process, the exhibit will include a variety of buttons, trims, swatch books and uncut embroidery. Also included are photographs from the Lai and Mah photo albums: formal, posed, handcolored studio shots, panoramic, black and white, and candid snapshots from the late 40s and 50s. Accompanying the exhibit are survey histories of China from 1850 to 1968 that discuss the changing social position of Chinese women as well as innovations in design.

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