Diaspora diaries

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 October, 2010, 12:00am

'I would walk down the street smiling and feeling overwhelmed by happiness. I thought I was extremely lucky to live in this cool city,' says Effie Wu of her first two years in Berlin.

For the 37-year-old multimedia artist from Taiwan, the German capital is 'cool' because she feels it accepts her offbeat style - Wu makes self-portrait videos showing her in off-the-wall outfits and moving in odd ways.

'I've been told by my Taiwanese friends I look awkward and lose face because I hum all the time and take my suitcase to the supermarket. They think I'm strange but I don't care. In Berlin, I can do whatever I want; in Taiwan, I'm cast as a weirdo.'

Perhaps not surprisingly, Wu has rarely returned to Taiwan since leaving 11 years ago, after finishing university.

Wu moved to Florence because a fortune-teller in Taipei told her she should go to Italy as soon as possible. No reason was given but, being superstitious, Wu left. Her family was shocked but gave her financial support regardless. She began to learn Italian then moved to Milan, to study fashion, but soon realised she 'hates fashion, a lot'.

The future seemed uncertain for Wu - until she visited Berlin in 2000 with her German boyfriend.

'I fell in love with Berlin right away. Whereas cities like Florence are set in their ways and have little room for change, Berlin is full of energy and gives me a sense of future and hope. It's my kind of city,' she says.

Wu left Italy and spent a year in Munich, her boyfriend's hometown, before settling in Berlin, where she studied experimental media art.

'I'd always wanted to get into video production but I didn't know how. Berlin being such an artistic place was perfect for me to get started,' she says.

But 'being such an artistic place' has had a downside. In a city with an abundance of artists, Wu finds it hard to get noticed. While her self-portrait videos and abstract installation works have been displayed and won her some awards, she hasn't managed to sell much.

'I think my career has not really begun,' she says, hopefully. 'At any party in Berlin, the chances are one-third of the people you meet are artists, one-third are musicians and the rest are designers. Competition is intense here. If you want to succeed, you have to be either very good at what you do or great at pitching your work.'

Fortunately, says an optimistic Wu, life in Berlin is easy because of the city's relatively low living costs.

She recently had her first child and is taking a break from work. But only a break.

'I'm dreaming of having a big studio. It's not easy because I don't have much money but compared with expensive Taipei or Hong Kong, Berlin is certainly a better place to go for this dream.'