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Artist gives birth to hair apparent

Updated: 2021-08-13 08:53 ( China Daily Global )
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Cai stands in front of her installation Wait, displaying a row of chairs wrapped in wet toilet paper, attached to the wall.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Before giving birth to her first child in 2012, Cai Yaling had no clue how tough being a mother would be, nor of the expectations society place upon women. A lot happened in a short space of time. In 2011, just a year or so previously, she had got married and then, after earning her master's degree in sculpture at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, fell pregnant. Cai didn't realize at the time that her career as an artist would face a two-year hiatus due to motherhood. When she did, depression and a sense of isolation set in.

"Trapped in depression, I couldn't figure out who I was but a mother. My previous life seemed like another life. My daily routine was to breastfeed my daughter or put her to sleep," the 37-year-old artist recalls.

She wanted to tell her story. But mobility, both social and actual, was difficult because of the demands of motherhood, so she turned to something ordinary to make an extraordinary statement-her hair. She used it to tell of the struggle unfolding inside. Like most mothers in China, she had it cut before giving birth, to prepare for the traditional custom of zuoyuezi ("sitting the month"). During the postpartum month, according to Chinese tradition, certain rules are followed, such as keeping warm, not showering or washing your hair, for the benefit of mother and child.

"When I held my hair in hands, I started wondering what I could do with it. Out of instinct, I began to sew the hair on a white cloth," Cai says. Every day, she sewed for about half an hour. The process lasted for about two years.

Titled Aug 21, 2012 to mark her daughter's birthday, her hair became an artwork. Sewed into a spiral, a symbol of infinity, its roundness indicates the pregnant belly and a symbol of fertility, according to Cai.

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