Bride hunters

Leslie Barnes

From Les Mariees de Taiwan. Illustration: Clement Baloup

Les Mariees de Taiwan
Clement Baloup
Boite A Bulles: 2017
In Clement Baloup’s Les Mariees de Taiwan (“Taiwanese Brides”), the third volume of his Memoires de Viet Kieu (“Vietnamese Memories”) series, a dragon swoops down from the sky to carry a young woman from the Vietnamese countryside to Taipei, where her new husband waits.

The first two volumes, Quitter Saigon (“Leaving Saigon”, 2010) and Little Saigon (2012), focus on the Vietnamese communities in France and the United States respectively and explore exile in relation to the history and consequences of imperialism and war in modern Vietnam. This third volume examines Vietnamese women who leave to marry Taiwanese men, thinking that, in so doing, they ensure a better life for themselves and the family they leave behind. Equal parts oneiric fiction and ethnographic study, the graphic novel offers a lucid critique of contemporary cross-border marriage migration between Vietnam and Taiwan, the force of which is captured in two of its more salient scenes.

In the first, a marriage recruiter asks the protagonist to undress so she can verify there are no corporeal defects that might compromise her value on the market. This allusion to the biopolitical measures to which economic migrants are subjected centres on the idea that the body of the Vietnamese marriage migrant in particular is a source of disease and deformity. It evokes the history of imperial struggle in Vietnam in which, at its apex, the US poisoned the Vietnamese with Agent Orange; it also conjures the xenophobic appeals of nationalist politicians in Taiwan, who have cautioned against “infecting” the Taiwanese body politic by mixing with these women.

The second scene is a modified reproduction of M.C. Escher’s Relativity and a piercing visual allusion to the network of contradictory economic forces and social expectations in which the marriage migrant and her host family are confined. Like Escher’s lithograph, Baloup’s panels represent an architectural space in which the laws of gravity appear to have been suspended, but which is nevertheless composed of planes in which they maintain their hold. Denied complex subjectivity by the reductive categories used to position them (eg, migrants as passive victims or economic opportunists; husbands as socio-economic failures or perpetrators of sex trafficking), none of the figures in the image seem to recognise the paradoxical nature of this situation, from which there appears to be no escape.

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