THE HUSBANDS AND I
CHUN HUA CATHERINE DONG
I started “The Husbands and I” performance in July 2009: I wore my Chinese traditional dress, walking the streets, and asking white males to have a photo taken with me and suggesting that they act as my husbands. I did this in order to explore intimacy between two strangers in public space. In September 2010, I moved from exploring this intimacy in public space to white men’s private spaces. I advertised myself in various media as an exotic, compliant and artistic Asian girl, looking for a white husband who would like to take me to his home and live with him for a day as his mail-order bride. I started to date different white men in late September 2010, and lived with each of them for a day. This performance ended in March 2011.
I emigrated from China to Canada nine years ago. I regard the whole process of immigration as a marriage, and myself like a mail-order bride. I married Canada, suddenly transforming myself from a Chinese to a Chinese Canadian or Canadian. My national identity is not constructed by Canadian history, its culture or its beautiful landscapes, but by the white males who are beside me. The physical encounter between me and the white males actually is an ideological confrontation between me and the Western social and political landscape that I feel I don’t belong to. For me, a sense of belonging can only be deepened through marriage. In fact, the process of looking for a white man is a process of looking for home. However, the home is temporary and the relationship is ephemeral.
My performance is also relevant to open discussion about how to deal with “deterritorialization” and “disessentialization” in the taken-for-granted world. Through examining my own multifaceted struggles associated with identity, gender, and sexuality, I not only try to challenge established binary systems: the concept of centre and margin, the majority and minority, and the dominated and dominating, but also negotiate and re-configure the established centered power that privileged white males embody. Most importantly, I question whether the culturally interpreted Chinese female body, both as a foreign subject and object, can be invested and exploited.