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Sound composition – The novice, fry and fledging 我全未曉

Rainbow Chan 陳雋然 

‘哭嫁 or ‘bridal laments’ refer to a marital mourning ritual of the 圍頭 (Waitau/Weitou) people, the first settlers of Hong Kong. To Waitau women, arranged marriages signified a kind of death. Upon marriage, a bride’s ties to home were severed and she would remain an outsider to the groom’s family. The bride-to-be would perform a lament cycle which involved singing and weeping in front of loved ones for three days.

I have Waitau ancestry through my mother who never learnt the laments as the oral tradition faded in the 1960s. With the help of my mother as translator, I have relearned these traditional songs from elderly Waitau women in Hong Kong’s New Territories since 2017.

The novice, fry and fledging 我全未曉  reimagines a traditional lament that uses fish and bird metaphors to describe the bride’s pain. The installation comprises three large silk paintings, backstrap loom weaving, and multi-channel sound. I transcribe the lament lyrics onto silk through brushwork, calligraphy and embroidery. Sonically, the lament is reworked into an electronic composition using vocal manipulation, field-recordings and conversation fragments with Weitou elders. Through these imperfect acts of translation, The novice, fry and fledging 我全未曉  explores themes of loss, rebirth and matrilineal knowledge. By reframing the lament in a contemporary manner, my work illuminates the diasporic psyche of connection/disconnection to the idea of home. More importantly, I hope my research and practice keeps the dying oral tradition of bridal laments significant to a modern world.’

– Rainbow Chan 陳雋然