Intricate, meticulously crafted, and visually distinctive, Nyonya beadwork occupies a signiﬁcant role in the cultural imaginary of the Peranakan Chinese, the acculturated descendants of Chinese migrants to the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago.
As an activity, beadwork was once an important part of a Peranakan Chinese girl’s set of skills. As an object, carefully crafted Nyonya beadwork was used at weddings and other celebratory occasions, touching the lives of Peranakan men and women, young and old. In this way, Nyonya beadwork became entwined within the wider relationships of gender, generation, and social hierarchy in Peranakan society The Peranakans also incorporated into their beadwork styles and motifs that reﬂected their changing ideals, aspirations, and lifestyles. Inscribed into the history of Nyonya beadwork is a narrative of the Peranakan Chinese community’s cultural transformations.
Phoenix Rising: Narratives in Nyonya Beadwork from the Straits Settlements is an exciting and original contribution to our understanding and appreciation of the diversity of Southeast Asian art. Decorative textiles are arguably the region’s greatest existing art tradition, yet relatively little has been published on the brilliant beadwork of the Peranakan Chinese communities of Singapore and Malaysia. In this fascinating study based on recent research, art historian Hwei-Fe’n Cheah provides a lively and accessible account of the subtle nuances in the evolution of designs, materials and textile forms against a history of social change in the lives of their makers, the Nyonya women of the Straits Settlements. A visual feast, Phoenix Rising is richly illustrated with superb and rare examples of Nyonya headwork from great international and local Southeast Asian public and private collections. – Robyn Maxwell, Senior Curator, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Generously illustrated and drawing from a variety of sources, Phoenix Rising provides a richly textured history of Nyonya beadwork, an integral part of the shared artistic traditions of Malaysia and Singapore. It is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the multi-cultural heritage of these two countries, a heritage of which l am proud. – Tengku Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Ahmad Rithauddeen, President, United Nations Association Malaysia, Former Foreign Minister of Malaysia
Using Nyonya beadwork as both a lens and an object of study, Hwei-Fe’n Cheah explores historical, social and cultural transformations in the Peranakan Chinese community. Phoenix Rising provides social scientists with tangible tools for examining concepts of modernity and tradition. For gender theorists, Phoenix Rising exempliﬁes the way time was used for beadwork and embroidery, thus crafting notions of Nyonya culture and identity. The reader is simultaneously taken on two journeys, the one pictorial, the other analytic, to learn about the changing ways in which meaning intersects with items of‘ material culture – historically and currently. The combination is a visually and intellectually exciting example of multi-disciplinary research that is also aesthetically stunning. Barbara Leigh Adjunct Professor, University of Technology Sydney