Dutch Wife

Still from film, 01:22, In a search of the “Dutch wife”, Kabupaten Sumedang, West Java Province, Indonesia, 2017.

Dutch Wife¹ brings together archival research at the National Museum of Korea and field research carried out in Indonesia (Kabupaten Sumedang, West Java Province). Through the performativity of repatriation and remaking, the research process investigated the notion of “return” as a pattern for remedying colonial objects, mapped the Asia.

The narrative and value of communities of objects may change in quality and disappear during their transplantation between different cultures and contexts. In other words, things change as a result of being displaced. I explored the multi-layered stories and histories surrounding the guiling, a long, tube-shaped human-sized cushion. In bed, people wrap their arms and legs around the cusion to stay in a relazed sleeping position. Originally made from rattan or braided bamboo, their open structure also allows for ventilation in warm and humid climates. During the Dutch colonial occupation of Indonesia, British traders used the mocking term “Dutch Wife” for guiling - raising the problematic subject of colonists seeking female companionship. The guiling merges everyday habits with traditional and contemporary crafts and colonial references, and i am interested in this object’s potential when placed in the environment of a contemporary art space.

Still from film, 02:01, The process of making Dutch Wife, Bamboo weaving technique, Kabupaten Sumedang, West Java Province, Indonesia, 2017.

Still from film, 02:42, The Journey of the “Dutch wife”, Kabupaten Sumedang, West Java Province, Indonesia, 2017.

Still from film, 03:26, Arrivals of “Dutch wife”, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, The Netherlands, 2017.

Dutch wife Installation view When Things Are Beings, Proposals for the Museum Collection, Curated by Amanda Pinatih and Britte Sloothaak, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. 2022-2023 Photo credit: Konstantin Guz.

I made this installation using a series of elongated knitted tubes that ‘embraces’ an original guiling. It is a gesture of softness and warmth, evoking the feeling of a caring embrace. The re-appropriation of the guiling is my attempt to reclaim a dispossessed and displaced object with the aim of healing colonial trauma through whole asian continent. the cartography map woven into the body of the object represents a landscape of hidden narratives.

Artist’s note:
Long ago, I was following one particular object for a long time. I actually started to look into this object because I understood this very mundane object came from Korea. But it was not. The original name of the object is’ Dutch wife’. The name came from the Dutch occupation in Indonesia, and was named by the British. The object has been spread due to its practical function of cooling down in tropical, subtropical regions. It carried over to other colonies in asia through history. It has different pronunciation but similar meaning as “wife”, connotating the women.

Zhúfūrén,Yale, trúc phu nhân, 죽부인, kawil, hpaat lone, guling; is all name of this object in Chinese, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pilipiness, Burmese, Indonesian. The object is made out of bamboo and weaved into a human sized pillow. You hug this object on your bed in the darkness of sweltering nights. It is used to wrap one’s arms and legs around while sleeping. So it keeps the body in a more relaxed position and ventilates the user’s body to cool down. Contrary to its name, the object indicates Indonesian women and its context. In the 17th century when Dutchmen arrived in the land, they couldn’t bring their wives. It was too expensive to travel with them. 

This object was a sleeping companion of them to substitute the women, to fill their loneliness. or they searched for women there, one example, which is called nyai. Book the existence of women’ described Nyai as ‘like a wife in the past, her business is not far from the laundry room, the bed, and the kitchen.  History generated this object. But specific names of her were unclear. She is called using different pronunciations, and her roots can be found in different places in Asia. She is elusive, but at the same time, her substantial body is not ambiguous. She has different gestures of use in day and night. She reduces the heat of other’s body when we hold its trunk, she stays in between our legs and arms, and we hug. It is the size of a tiny women.

During my journey to find the Dutch Wife and their undiscovered narratives (together with my friend Anggi from Bandung) I tried to portray a ‘diverse unknown woman figure’ beyond the object. The object is still used these days. In Sumedang, We started to re-make the object together with old and young ladies, also people who still remember the stories of objects around. It arrived in the Netherlands. 

After the arrivals, I decided to make another portrait of Dutch wife. I was imagining the reserve gesture of the object can be subversive to her stories. It vertically stands to embrace others inside of their body. and warm up the others like shelter to cover. and It is not one singular object anymore, but the multiple bodies were assembled together. Landscape paintings and diverse geographical locations was applied to new body.

Dutch Wife has been nominated for the Gijs Bakker Prijs. The project was supported by the TextielMuseumTilburg, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, Mondriaan Fonds, 2022.