Eat Bitterness, 2023

eat (verb)
: to take in through the mouth as food: ingest, chew, and swallow in turn
: to destroy, consume, or waste by or as if by eating

bitterness (noun)
: sharpness of taste; lack of sweetness.

eat bitterness:
a Chinese idiom to describe enduring hardships without complaints, or even to suffer

As the granddaughter of factory workers, my Irish American grandmother was just one of a handful of women who worked the assembly line of a car manufacturing plant, and her Chinese grandmother worked in a sewing factory, located deep within the alleys of Chinatown, for an American retailer. Their hands adapted through the constant path and rumble of the industrial sewing machine and as cars and the assembly-line work modernized with computers and automation. My grandmothers faced poverty, political and social oppression, and personal trauma. Eat bitterness. They were both tough, independent women during a time when women weren’t supposed to be either.

I use porcelain to describe dualities—this material can capture both fragility and resilience. I use adornments, blue and white patterns, reflective surfaces, synthetic and human hair in installations, objects, and video work to explore the global inequalities of labor, notions of girlhood, and forms of protest.

Much of my work focuses on how women specifically embody time: the phases of the moon and the menstrual cycle, the exaggerated weight of waiting and quarantining, the slow growth of hair, the thresholds we cross and the unknown spaces we withstand, and the many “luck” objects we create to hold and use while hoping for a better future or circumstances.

Braiding pain and perfection, these objects amplify female voices, reconstruct our identities, and celebrate our truths. Refuse to eat bitterness. Deep within my DNA and the muscle memory of the assembly line, I also feels my grandmothers' hope.

Jennifer Ling Datchuk: Eat Bitterness, 2023
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
May 20, 2023–September 17, 2023
Curated by Rachel Adams, Chief Curator and Director of Programs

Learn more: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts