Kurt Tong

Combing for Ice and Jade

2011 -2018

Kurt Tong

Combing for Ice and Jade is a love note from Kurt Tong to his nanny Mak, who was one of the last remaining ‘self combed’ women left in China. This was an early form of feminism, rooted in the 19th century when numerous women in Southern China became financially independent thanks to the silk trade. After Imperial China began to crumble some women took the initiative of adopting independence permanently as so called Comb Sisters. This ceremony granted women great autonomy at a great cost. They were for example not allowed to return home to die in their old age. In the next 55 years she would only work for two families. Over that time, she kept her own family alive through the great famine in 1950s, educated her nephews, built houses for them, and supported their businesses. Yet through all this, she has retained a very simple lifestyle.
Starting from the mere 8 photographs Mak had of herself, the multimedia project is an exploration of her extraordinary life, working closely with her over a period of nearly 7 years. Her story is slowly revealed through a combination of the family archive, found photographs from her extended families, new photographs, Chinese ink works, and women’s magazines from China spanning 6 decades.

Kurt Tong (b.1977, Hongkong, United Kingdom)

Photographer Kurt Tong was originally trained as a health visitor at the University of Liverpool. He worked and traveled extensively across Europe, the Americas and Asia. He became a full-time photographer in 2003 documenting stories for a variety of NGOs. He gained his Masters in documentary photography at the London College of Communication and began working on personal projects exploring his Chinese roots and understanding of his motherland. Much of Kurt’s recent work incorporates elements of installation and sculptural, pushing the boundaries of the medium.

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