Exhibition Honours Chinese Heritage Through Knitted Cuisine

Whanganui Regional Museum is preparing to open an innovative new exhibition that celebrates Chinese culture and heritage through knitting and cooking.

Fortune, a knitted yum cha banquet,is the creation of Auckland-based artist, Bev Moon. Moon (Seyip, Cantonese, Taishanese, Chinese) explores history and culture through drawing, sculpture, painting, and textiles.  Fortune is the result of a knitting project that she began during the Auckland lockdown of late 2021.

The exhibition is a sumptuous assortment of dim sum dishes, wontons, dumplings, pork buns, spring rolls, and more, all carefully crafted in wool.

Moon said, “Knitting is something I have done from the age of nine when my late mother, Yip Sue Yen (Sue Eng) showed me how. She was a great knitter, as was her mother Lee Choy Kee (Yip Choy Kee). She and my mother were superb cooks as well.“

“I experimented and did my best to source just the right yarn shades, weights and textures to create patterns for various wrappers and shapes. I folded and stuffed them the way Mum taught me when I helped make yum cha with her, all those years ago. Slowly the number of dishes grew into a feast, and I realised it was an homage of sorts not only to my mother, but my grandmother as well.”

The exhibition explores the early Chinese settler experience through her mother and grandmother and the anti-Chinese laws that existed in New Zealand until the 1950s.

Born and raised in Wellington, Moon is descended from Taishanese men who first arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand in the 1880s. Due to New Zealand’s discriminatory ‘poll tax’ immigration policy, their wives had to remain in China. “Many years and thousands of miles separated the women from the men. “

Moon’s mother and grandmother were two of only 500 Chinese women and children eventually granted temporary refuge by the New Zealand government to escape the Japanese invasion in World War II. 

A grant from the New Zealand Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust has paid for touring crates and exhibition elements, allowing the exhibition to tour around Aotearoa New Zealand to share the story of the early Chinese settler women of this country.  

The title Fortune has a double meaning. It references the luck Moon’s mother and grandmother had as two of only 500 to be granted refuge, and it is also a comment about how much the artwork cost to complete due to the exorbitant price of wool.

Museum Director, Dr Bronwyn Labrum, said, “We are delighted to host this labour of love. It is a beautiful and beautifully made homage to family history. Equally importantly, it highlights an underappreciated part of the history of Aotearoa New Zealand. Migration is an important topic right now as we grapple with skills and shortages and other needs. This exhibition reminds us directly of the draconian laws that many of our early migrants entered New Zealand under.”

Fortune will open to the public at 10am on Saturday 10th February, coinciding with Chinese New Year celebrations.  Local educator Wen Xiong of Wen’s Story Den will perform a lion dance in the atrium at 1.00pm, and a lantern-making activity will run throughout the day.  Artist and Curator Bev Moon will give a talk and tour of the exhibition at 1.30pm. The talk is free, and open to all. Koha for the museum is always appreciated. Booking is not required.

A schedule of public programmes over the coming months will support the exhibition: Chinese calligraphy, puppet making, Chinese language for adults, dumpling making and a special ‘night at the museum’ event for children.

Exhibition details


Open from Saturday 10th February at Whanganui Regional Museum, Pukenamu Queens Park, Watt Street, Whanganui until Sunday 14th July.

Admission is free.

Image: Bev Moon, Artist. Photographed by Dianna Thomson Photography

Karen Hughes

2 February 2024

Art & Design