Sun Furong
(b. 1961, Handan, China; lives and works in Beijing)

Decade. From the series Nibbling.

100 pieces of cotton clothing, metal hangers, dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artis

A self-taught artist working with folk art traditions such as paper cutting and sewing, Sun Furong started her first and most iconic series of installations, Nibbling, in 2003. Each installation is an “army” comprising one hundred sets of Chinese workers’ and military uniforms, that she, little by little, cuts, snips, and slashes with her dressmaker’s scissors, creating a dazzling effect, as if the garments have been nibbled. This work is simultaneously an act of exorcism from the traumatic cultural history the uniforms represent and of bitter remembrance of (and empathy for) those young people

like herself, who lived with scarcity and famine. However, the longer you look at the silhouettes, the more they resemble not an army but a choir: one that is about to burst into song.

Sun recalls how, as a schoolgirl during the Cultural Revolution, she was reluctant to participate in any revolutionary or political events the school engaged in because each time it meant an enormous effort to borrow the so-called Zhongshan zhuang suit (a tunic that was the uniform of Chinese society at the time) from other families, as it was difficult to obtain. These suits were sewn at home and then patched up again and again over the years. “We Chinese,” writes Sun, “are very hard working, frugal, and very good at surviving. That is, we take off our clothes outside at night, wash them, and put them on again the next day.”