“When women try to simultaneously play different roles, they tend to forget their own unique power.”

Born 1977, Keelung, Taiwan

Isa Ho has grown up in a Taiwan very different from that of her grandmothers, and the seismic changes in women’s lives and roles are a central theme of her work.  Today women are free to work, live independently, and marry whomever they choose. Yet they remain under pressure to uphold the Confucian idea that a good woman stays demurely at home under the care of her menfolk. “Modern women are given more opportunities to express themselves and their abilities,” the artist says, “but the roles women take on in today’s society also create conflicts between traditional values and new ones.” Her photo-print series I Got Super-Strong Courage (2008) is, like most of her works, a comical representation of this liberation struggle. The pictures show the artist dressed in army gear (but also, variously, a pink bra, a thong, and slippers that hint at foot-binding) and bearing an arsenal of weapons (but also an embroidery frame and a doll). Each image is titled with one of the Confucian “noble virtues”: wen, temperance; liang, goodness; gong, respect; jian, frugality; and rang, submissiveness. The symbols Isa Ho attaches to these virtues are sometimes traditional (embroidery for “goodness”) and sometimes not (a minimalist red thong for “frugality”).  Women, she believes, should neither reject old ways nor embrace them unthinkingly. Instead they should adapt them to 21st century reality. Far from being the enemy, tradition can be “one of our weapons”, she says.  “I try to reinterpret the traditional virtues so they empower the modern woman.”

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