During her artist residency at W.O.W. from February-July 2021, Joy Mao created a special 百家衣 Bai Jia Yi in collaboration with the Chinatown community. She collected fabric remnants from the community’s past and present garment workers, and assembled them into a special 百家衣 Bai Jia Yi alongside garment industry veterans—May Ying Chen, Alice Ip, and Lorraine Lum.
From January 2022-July 2022, Joy returned to The W.O.W. Project as Artist-in-Residence for a second year. Her project investigated how clothing-making can be a vessel for community care and culminated in the community co-creation of 八宝粥 Ba Bao Zhou, a capsule collection celebrating the everyday abundance of Chinatown.
Joy Mao is a Chinese American fashion designer and artist using clothing as a medium for examining how our clothes shape the way we understand ourselves, our relationships, and the ways we move through our worlds. She was the Artist in Residence at The W.O.W. Project from 2021-2022, and now works as a Teaching Artist on the Creatives Rebuild New York program while creating for her small batch fashion brand, joy mao.
For the fifth 店面 Storefront Residency, W.O.W. called for individual artists or a pair of artistic collaborators to create a window display for the storefront at 26 Mott Street in honor of 清明 Qingming, tomb-sweeping day, centering the theme of grief and grieving. Guided by this theme, Joy developed Woven Narratives: Stitching for Healing, a workshop series which invited participants to invited to embroider a piece of a collaborative quilt. In this two-part workshop, participants learned and practiced basic hand-embroidery techniques as a method for welcoming space to reflect and honor the weight of grief felt during 2021.
Coming into this residency, Joy was interested in developing a deeper understanding of the Chinatown community’s history and legacy of garment-making. Inspired by her grandmother, she began to develop a Bai Jia Yi (Hundred Families Robe), a style of quilted garment native to many regions of China, traditionally handmade for children. Families with young children would ask other families in their community to donate scraps of fabric, and then use the collected fabrics to create colorful patchwork childrens’ robes. Though born from a humble need to conserve material and share resources, the robes were said to carry the blessings of a hundred families, enveloping their wearers with an entire community’s wishes for a healthy and happy life.
The Bai Jia Yi was hung in the window of Wing on Wo, along with the Woven Narratives quilt and a window installation co-created with multimedia artist and activist Betty Yu. Betty's practice is rooted in her identity as a Chinese American daughter of immigrant garment workers. Her mother, Sau Kwan, worked for 30+ years as a seamstress in Manhattan Chinatown starting in the 1980s. Objects in this window were collected from Ms. Kwan’s experience in the garment industry, including an old factory radio, clothing she made for herself and her children, and tools which have accompanied her in her workspaces.
For her final showcase, Joy also worked with a group of community members to create hats called Bai Jia Mao. Made from fabric remnants donated by Chinatown’s past and present garment workers, including a rare historical fabric produced by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) in the 1980s, each Bai Jia Mao is unique and reversible. The patchwork construction and quilted brim reference the construction details of our Bai Jia Yi.
Quilt Contributors: Aislinn Luk, Alex Vargo, Amanda Cui, Amy Hong, Angela Chan, Cheryl Chen, Christina Duan, Cynthia Qian, Irene Gao, Jen Eng, Kristin Chang, Kyla Cheung, May Ying Chen, Ming Jia, My-Ha Moon, Sarah Ngo, Hammerling, Shannon Daniels, Ying Ngo
Bai Jia Yi Collaborators: Joy Mao, Lorraine Lum, May Ying Chen, Alice Ip
Bai Jia Mao Collaborators: Joy Mao, Lorraine Lum, May Ying Chen, Bonnie Chen, Barbara Ho Soong, Melissa Soong
For the sixth year of the Artist Residency, Joy piloted a way of designing and constructing clothing that was led by a central question: how can we make clothes in a way which sustains our community?
Joy worked with industry veteran Lorraine Lum as artistic partners in the development of the Ba Bao Zhou collection, working closely on all stages of the process including research, design, patternmaking, and construction. After grounding her inquiry in Chinatown’s rich history of garment work, Joy initiated a creative process which centered intergenerational collaboration and learning. She developed a series of educational workshops with the Resist Recycle Regenerate (RRR) youth cohort.
Over four months, the cohort cultivated various art-making skills, nurtured intergenerational bonds, and encouraged each other to investigate how creative actions can be guided by historical context, personal experience, introspection, and community engagement. Community elder and former International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) leader, May Ying Chen, spearheaded a discussion about New York's garment-making history and patterns of Asian American immigration. Photographer Mengwen Cao shared about their artistic practice and led the group in activities to practice image-making as a tool for observing Chinatown with respect, love, and care. Informed by these conversations, RRR youth were invited to draw, carve, and print motifs that represented symbols of abundance to them. These became the foundation of a community motif library that Joy and Lorraine incorporated into the collection.
After completing production of the garments, W.O.W. conducted a photoshoot that celebrated three groups of women with roots in Chinatown’s history of garment labor. Each subject was photographed in a location significant to their family’s garment history, and styled in customized pieces from the Ba Bao Zhou collection. These intimate portraits allowed the clothes we created to facilitate connection and remembrance.
Joy's work culminated in a showcase at Abrons Art Center, where a gallery exhibition detailing the process of creating the clothes and a public unveiling of the collection was presented with the community. 八宝粥 Ba Bao Zhou, or “Eight Treasures Porridge” is a traditional Chinese sweet stew made from a variety of herbal treasures, such as lotus seeds, mung beans, and red peanuts. It is a beloved symbol of cultural abundance and community nourishment, embodying the spirit of Joy’s collection.
Garment Production: Joy Mao, Lorraine Lum
Community Collaborators: Resist Recycle Regenerate (Kaitlyn Lee, Christina Duan, Serena Yang, Vivian Yi, Tiffany Huang, Sophia Kschwendt, Bridget Li, Aurora Hom), May Ying Chen, Mengwen Cao, Alice Ip, Mischelle Moy, Jade Li, Wing On Wo Family, Abrons Art Center, Kana Togashi & Saffron BK, Ying Chen, Shaina Yang
Production / Documentation: Denise Zhou, Cocoro Kitagawa, Sueann Leung, June Kim, Renee Chang & Echo Chen, Shirley Chan, Sarula Bao & Endless Editions