Seventeen Years of Cultural Intervention: An Exhibition on Black Hand Nakasi Workers’ Band

The current core members of the Worker’s Band Black Hand Nakasi include Bo-Wei Chen, You-Ren Yang, Yu-Lin Chuang, Tzu-Chiang Liu, Ming-Hui Wang, Di-Hao Chang and Yao-Ting Yao. Since the forming of the band, they have been affirming their belief “music comes from the public and goes to the public” and developing their peculiar creative process and presentational approach, such as “collective practice,” “going to the site,” “story sharing workshop,” etc. Their production grammar shapes the unique form of their work, and sets them far apart from other bands.

In 1977, legendary singer Shuang-Tze Lee made a piercing call for “we want to sing our songs” in a concert in Tamkang University. Who does this “we” refer to? What are “our songs”? Simple might these questions be, yet they were considered as political taboo during the Taiwanese Martial Law period. It was of no surprise that Tzu- Jiun Yang’s attempt in bringing folk songs into social movements was completely banned by the government. Nine years after the Lifting of Martial Law, Black Hand Nakasi responded to these two questions to liberate the concept of “we” from its strong tie with nationalism. “We” and “our songs” are reinterpreted and reimagined by subjectivities of people, workers, oppressed groups and protesters.

“We” are not positioned by theoretic speculations, but pronounced via long-term practices and engagements. Cultural activists always confront the complexity of working along with different publics when entering scenes of social movement. To avoid such possibility of becoming some heroic musician or artist, Black Hand Nakasi often consciously chooses the most progressive position: they do not sing or voice for the public, but let the public sing and voice out by themselves. With their firm belief, the band democratizes their music production to seek for alternative possibilities to “sing our songs” throughout different phases of their seventeen years’ practice.

“Living as Form” investigates questions around socially engagement art, and hopes to explores more examples from the local context. The achievement of Black Hand Nakasi provides us with profound reflections on cultural production. They inherit the historical folk song spirit to “sing our songs,” continuing the momentum of cultural activism from the 90s. Not only through their lyrics, their cultural intervention is reflected and cultivated in the process of music production. It would be interesting to note how these recent dramatic changes of Taiwanese social movements, in terms of forms, topics and the public, will further transform the cultural production of Black Hand Nakasi. More inputs from activists may be required for its future progress and practice.


The Music Practices of Black Hand Nakasi

by Black Hand Nakasi

When Martial Law was lifted in Taiwan in 1987, Taiwanese people who had suffered from oppression for several decades began demanding reasonable and fair treatment whether in terms of thinking or the economy. It was a period when labor movements flourished. In 1988, the female workers of Shinkong Textile Co. Ltd. adapted popular songs and sang them during protests. This was how a workers’ culture evolved and came into being. Against this background, social movements produced an arena for Black Hand Nakasi. In 1996, Black Hand Nakasi was founded at the initiation of the Committee for Actions on Labor Legislation. In the years that followed, it participated in various protests against factory closures. Black Hand Nakasi has always been on the same battlefront with the underdogs, and reflected on how to subvert the cultural patterns of mainstream society.

Over the past decade or so, the cultural collaborations of Black Hand Nakasi have been one of “equal partnership”, rather than adopting a “top-down approach”. These cultural collaborations are a form of cultural struggle launched by social movements and organizations. Manifested in the production relations of songs and music, they take the form of “collective practice”, where practitioners with some knowledge of composition works  with workers/disadvantaged groups rich in cultural value but lacking in cultural capital. This mode of cultural production does not attempt to be as sophisticated and high-brow as professionals. For Black Hand Nakasi, what matters is the process of the cultural production of progressive democracy. The collective practice workshop developed by Black Hand Nakasi in the context of social movements is also a progressive democratic experiment that is slow but profound.

In her thesis “A Reflection on my Political Journey in a Left-Wing Labor Movement in Taiwan”, Hsiang-lin Lai, a member of “Raging Citizens Act Now!”, attempts to provide a framework for understanding “slow politics”:

“ ‘Slow politics’ is the slow and complex joining together of the context of an individual’s political consciousness with the class power of the collective (community) consciousness and their mutual growth. This process of joining together and mutual growth involves the mutual reference and understanding between individuals or between individuals and the community, reconciling the differences of “me”/”us” and self/other. Individuals with different backgrounds and political history collide and clash with one an- other in movements. In the seemingly slow, repetitive and chaotic process, the activists develop relations that transform themselves and bring about social reform. (Slow politics) is a means through which activists recognize their political nature and develop a way of pushing for social reform together with others.”

Even in this kind of “slow politics”, the music created by Black Hand Nakasi and the disadvantaged slowly but surely penetrates the one-dimensional political and economic structure built by ideology and mainstream culture. Individuals see the life experiences of each other, while different experiences collide, form a dialogue and become references for one another.

Opening|2013.8.24  4:00 — 7:00pm
Artist Talk|2013.9.14  3:00 — 5:00pm
Black Hand Nakasi and Chang Chaowei in conversation
Music Concert|2013.9.21  5:00 — 6:30
Black Hand Nakasi musical street performance

Venue|TheCube Space (2F, No13, Aly 1, Ln 136, Sec 4, Roosevelt Rd, Taipei)
Directions| Gongguan Station Exit 1 (near Shuiyuan Market)

Organizer|TheCube Space
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Special Thanks|Tsai Jia-Zhen

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