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Talking Cheongsams

Apr 2, 2019

Project Summary

From a dress worn to reflect status, to everyday wear, to uniforms of teachers, the cheongsam have seen significant changes in the roles played across various identities over the years. Today, the cheongsam is often used as cultural icon to represent the Chinese community and worn as a traditional costume during special occasions. This installation focused the developments of the design in the 1950s to 1970s. The installation used cheongsam as an inspiration and form of storytelling to trace its culture, identities and meanings in our rapidly-changing social landscape. It aims to evoke and commemorate the cheongsam as a form of dress portraying dual characteristics of fragility and strength; modernity and self-awareness.

More than 20 designs were created by referencing the original cheongsams from the National Museum of Singapore. The cheongsams, including some with interactive components, is made of unconventionalfabricsusingthreadsandtea-stainedsilkobjectsstitchedonwater-solublematerial. When the material dissolves, only the patterns and its dress formremains.

Suspended using threads, the cheongsams will be arranged at various heights in a dark room. Each ofthecheongsamswillbeilluminatedwithprogrammableLEDlightsfromthetop.Swarovskicrystals and the patterns of the dresses will also create dynamic shadows and light reflections. This helped toportrayoftheideaofthecontinuinglivingcultureofthecheongsams.Visitorswillbeabletolisten to narration of love letters dedicated to cheongsams by touching the conductive threads attached to them. Visitors will alsobe able to go up-close with the cheongsams to see their patterns. Two videos that shows the process of making and storytelling will also be projected on both sides of the room.

Together, the cheongsams create an interface that connects the strong cultural significance and history of the cheongsam as a dress form with the personal experiences and stories of wearers (and its viewers). While presenting personal stories contributed by people from different walks of life, it also offers space for visitors to draw their own connections with the cheongsams and to see them beyond just as a dress.

Created By


Galina Mihaleva

School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University


Hedren Sum

NTU Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity (NISTH), Nanyang Technological University