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by YONG Mien Huei
This dissertation seeks to re-examine the notion of domesticity in the context of the Chinese house with the dominance of the patriarch as the head of the family and to recast theories of domesticity within a Chinese urban context. It draws parallel arguments with Rachel Whiteread’s site-specific sculpture, House, which deals succinctly with the general concerns of monumentality and domesticity. This concretized iconic volume embodies familiarity of notions associated with home, familial living, ritual, nostalgia and gender roles.
My dissertation examines the domesticity of Cheong Fatt Tze’s mansion, or better known as the Blue Mansion, through various periods, users and elements of the monument. The contestation for space between the monument and the domestic resulted in highly unanticipated and unimaginable means. The gendered reading of the patriarch, associated with ideals of rationality and order, is mirrored on the monument, built to survive beyond his own demise. Conversely, the domestic is gendered feminine due to traditional associations of women’s role in the patriarchal family. Built on narratives from biographical and historical accounts, this paper develops its own voice into the search for the transgression of boundaries between the domestic and the monumental. This dissertation seeks to challenge the notion of a gender-scripted space by looking at the connections between women and inside spaces. Also, it looks at how architecture is continually reproduced through changing users and daily activities.
My conviction is that these two polarities do not exist independent of each other. The divide between private and public, domestic and monumental, is often balanced between banal objects of home décor and methods of spatial planning, coupled with bodily transgressions. Through these, I aim to deconstruct the Blue Mansion, tearing it apart to reveal fractures that persistently weaken the position of the patriarchal monument. These fractures represent the voices of the domestic, those who intend to reclaim their space at home.
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