Over time, there is a long history of women gathering to make things as a way to connect with each other.
“I think in the tradition of knitting and quilting, of women gathering together to make things, is when sharing happens,” says Pao Arts Center artist in resident Yu-Wen Wu. The creation circle makes a safe space to discuss challenging topics.
In Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, where the center is located, Wu embarks on a journey, seeing the world through the eyes of an immigrant — which she happens to be.
Wu makes bundles as part of her “Leavings/Belongings” art project, and she encourages other women to join her. These cloth bundles are symbolic representations of what is left behind and what may be carried in migration.
At sessions, women create the bundles while talking — or not — about their own, personal immigrant experiences. The bundles represent belongings they took with them or had to leave behind during their transition to a new home country.
The practice of making the bundles isn’t just to give participants something to do with their hands. The bundles serve as symbolic vessels for each woman’s story. Creating them together becomes a gateway to communication.
Wu describes one participant who told the harrowing story of her escape from Iran to India. At the end of the story, she said she felt unburdened by finally being able to talk about her experience.
Wu says, “It’s an opportunity for women in particular to share their stories.”
As women voice their emotions of hopes, dreams, and survival, they share in a greater conversation about the experience arriving in and assimilating to a new culture.
Wu moved to the U.S. at the age of seven from Taipei, Taiwan. “As an immigrant myself there’s always this sense of straddling two cultures,” she says. “My home is here in Boston, but I feel very comfortable in Taiwan.”
Wu’s “Leavings/Belongings” art project culminates in an exhibition of photographs of participants with their bundles. Some photographs depict a whole woman, eager to share her story, while others show just details, like hands carrying a small bundle from one country to another.
Though Wu originally designed these sessions with women in mind, she has had many men participate and contribute meaningful and compassionate stories. She also stresses that this project is not just for immigrants and refugees, but also for anyone who has been touched by, or is interested in, the immigrant experience.
“Across countries, language barriers, and through challenging journeys, it’s these supportive communities that help women persevere and push on,” says Wu. “All are welcome.”
Bundling sessions are held on Thursdays through May or June of 2019; schedule can be found online as it gets finalized.