In Chinese culture, it is said that girls born with a horizontal line cutting across the palm — called duan zhang (or 'broken' palm) — are fated to live a life of hardship and bad luck. We imagined a grandmother relating her trials and tribulations to her granddaughter, and how she was destined to live a tough life because of her 'broken' palm. She had set sail from her hometown in Guangdong Province, China, and came to Singapore to work as a Samsui woman.
"Girl ah, see, I HAVE THIS LINE ACROSS MY PALM. This is known as THE 'broken' palm, which means that I was BORN INTO HARDSHIP. That is why I had to be a samsui woman."
THE DESIGN PROCESS
We started with drawing the grandmother's 'broken' palm and went on to illustrate objects from her daily life. Ones that allowed brief moments of escape and comfort from her hardship. Her meagre pay; her rice bowl; her cigarettes and matches; and the memory of her hometown. These motifs came to life in the form of embroidery patches, a hobby and technique that is associated with the older generation.
Apart from the patches, we've also designed two bags. The first, inspired by the most iconic belonging of the Samsui woman — a red head cloth worn on the job at construction sites. The second design took cues from her blue uniform and the yoke she used to carry heavy loads.
MANUFACTURING AND PRODUCTION
Our products are machine embroidered, which lends speed and comparative ease in contrast to tackling it hands-on like traditional craft. But above that, it holds meaning by contrasting the essence of our core myth; as hard labour and automation are polar opposites. This marriage between the two different ideas reconciles the old and the new, creating a refreshing twist to the story.
COMMUNICATING OUR MESSAGE
Accompanied by motion graphics, our products are featured against bold backgrounds to grab attention right off the bat. We'd hoped to relate to the younger generation to pass on the story.
Watch the video above.
THE CHALLENGES FACED
In Singapore, material and production options are very limited. Despite the difficulties, we managed to represent our concept well with a range of original designs that are not only on trend, but tell an important part of our history and culture.
Learn more about Ah Ma Says at Myths and Beliefs, an extended exhibition by LASALLE College of the Arts. It is a part of the Gallery Light to Night Festival held at the National Gallery Singapore, Former Supreme Court Foyer, L2, from 25 November to 4 December.