Urgent Museum Notice

Fabulous! Portraits by Michele Mattei: Bette Bao Lord

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
View of the museum from outside showing the Neoclassical building from one corner. The building is a tan-colored stone with an arched doorway, long vertical windows, and detailed molding around the roof.

NMWA’s exhibition Fabulous! Portraits by Michele Mattei presents a selection of Michele Mattei’s photographs of women who have shaped contemporary culture. Mattei, who began her career as a journalist before moving into photojournalism and then photography, interviewed her portrait subjects as she was photographing them.
This interview excerpt is a portion of Mattei’s discussion with author and human rights advocate Bette Bao Lord (b. 1938):

Michele Mattei, Bette Bao Lord, 2010; Image © Michele Mattei
Michele Mattei, Bette Bao Lord, 2010; Image © Michele Mattei

Michele Mattei: You came to the United States as a little girl to escape the Chinese Cultural Revolution. You didn’t speak any English. Can you talk about your experience?
Bette Bao Lord: I think every immigrant’s experience is unique to that person. Like life. For me, the idea of immigration was colored by my parents’ attitude. I came here when I was eight years old. At that point we were supposed to be going back to China in two years. So I was supposed to learn English, very fast. My parents wanted me to be bilingual when we went back to China. I arrived in America, in Brooklyn, on a Sunday. By Monday morning I was already put into school. I didn’t speak a word of English.
My parents were very wise. They thought of all of these changes in our lives as an adventure, a wonderful adventure, in which you could be challenged and prove yourself.
MM: Your novels are all based on Chinese history. You mentioned that you were thinking of doing an American novel. Can you discuss that?
BBL: Well, you know, I want to write an American novel. But right now I have finite time in which to be able to move and to be athletic. So I said to myself, “When I’m in a wheelchair I will write an American novel.”
I’m hoping to write again when I don’t feel the urgency to be physically active. Because when I write, it’s a twenty-four hour job. I’m not an easy writer, I’m not facile at all, I need to concentrate and I’m terrible to live with. I think that I will write again. But I’m also at an age where I can give myself permission to play.
MM: You said something really wonderful in one of your books: “The higher type of man seeks all that he desires in himself, and the inferior man seeks all that he desires from others.”
BBL: I think if you look at how other people think of you, you’re always insecure. But if you set your goals and you have knowledge of yourself, you can always reach your goal! The goal doesn’t need to mean anything to anybody else; only to you. For instance, I want to improve my backhand in tennis. I lift my head too fast. So my current goal is that I’m not going to lift my head too fast. It means absolutely nothing to anybody else! But I’ll be very happy. It seems like a very small thing.
Whereas if you look at others, somebody’s always going to have more friends, somebody’s going to have more prizes. How can anybody think that they have lived in the same planet as Mozart? You can’t!

The exhibition Fabulous! Portraits by Michele Mattei is on view at NMWA October 12, 2012–January 13, 2013.

Related Posts

  • Art Fix Friday: February 26, 2021

    Posted: Feb 26, 2021 in Art Fix Friday
    The Speed Art Museum will open an exhibition on the life and death of Breonna Taylor and a year of racial justice protests; Precious Okoyomon wins the 2021 Frieze Artist Award; and more.
    A black-and-white photograph of a light-skinned adult woman holding a newspaper with news about World War II. She wears a coat and her short, curly hair is caught in the wind.
    Blog Category:  Art Fix Friday
  • Women to Watch 2020: Natasha Bowdoin

    Posted: Feb 24, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about artist Natasha Bowdoin's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    A detail of contemporary paper art with a colorful painted base underneath thousands of cut alphabet letters in concentric designs.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Elisabetta Di Maggio

    Posted: Feb 23, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about Italian artist Elisabetta Di Maggio's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    Detail view of delicate, white tissue paper that has been cut with intricate floral patterns which create shadows on the wall behind it.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight