Archives for the month of: June, 2015

I know you’re tired of it. Race. Race in America. It’s a topic ripe enough to burst, and it dominates the headlines: racial terrorism, police brutality, Obama using the “N” word. I’m sick of it too, but it’s what people of color, like me, live and breathe every day. We talk, cry, and yell it; it’s the key in which we sing.

Lately, I have been developing a body of work that deals with the fraught and beleaguered issue of race in America. These paintings are a continuation of my recent show at Seattle’s Zeitgeist Coffee, Disconnects: The Linguistics of Race. After Ferguson, I began this series as a way of processing the rage and grief that I felt.

Using a large housepaint brush, I flung acrylic paint on more than 30 feet of raw canvas. Working in such a visceral, often violent way–and on such a large scale–was cathartic for me. Although the Action Painters of the ’50s used the same methods, they produced work that was largely apolitical (and most were Caucasian men). My work is firmly rooted in the discourse of racial disparity.

The first piece in the series is Denatured, a tribute to Michael Brown.

Denatured
Denatured, nailed to the wall at Zeitgeist Coffee, March 2015

Most of the other pieces use the same splatter method to represent the squandered lives that racism takes by force. The random patterns of the paint form tumultuous narratives of struggle, evoking bodies rent apart through physical or psychological violence, the disemboweling of entire communities, and the quest for liberation.

Race 2_FergusonRace 1

Race 3

The following pieces talk about structural racism, the bias written into institutions and systems in America. From the Confederate flag flown over Southern government buildings to racial stratification in housing, vestiges of white supremacist ideology are still present in our culture.

Race 5
If this reminds you of a penitentiary, then you’re on the right track.

Race 4

What does experiencing racism feel like? I can say from firsthand experience that you feel eviscerated, stripped of agency, and blinded to everything except the incident itself. Your perspective distorted and self-worth negated, you feel like sawdust or, worse yet, nothing at all.

But as an Asian-American, I have it easy compared to the struggles of the black community. According to writer Julia Craven, “To be black, specifically in America, is to be in a constant state of fear. There is no refuge. There is no escape. There is no sanctuary.”

Even so, you still get some wildly posturing, colonialist asshat like Rachel Dolezal, who commodifies Otherness (in the words of bell hooks) in the ultimate appropriative act of white privilege. As if race can be simply performed and adopted. As if we all had the luxury of that choice.

That’s why we have to frankly and openly address race in America–and run it ragged: understand its ins and outs, all its vagaries and gray areas. And then do something about it. From rewriting the policies and laws to subverting the dominant media narrative and its outdated tropes (see the Wall Street Journal coverage of Charleston for an example) to supporting communities of color.

This all takes thinking critically, listening carefully, and acting compassionately. Not turning the other way or pretending it’s someone else’s job. It’s our job because, goddamn it, it’s our world.

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Cacus story 1

I just can’t bring myself to own this dog. Or this cat. Or even this hamster.

I already had my heart broken once—and it wasn’t even an animal. It was a cactus.

The cactus popped into my life as an unlikely birthday gift many years ago. It was about six inches high, thick as a soda can, and surprisingly hairy, with a corona of white hair—which is why this species is often called an old man cactus.

Scan

At first I gave it the side-eye, but decided to accept it into my life as a friend. I put the cactus on a table in the sunniest spot in the living room. Before I knew it, we were sitting together for contemplative stretches of time, and I’d occasionally stroke its surprisingly soft white hair. I named the cactus “Pom”—short for pom-pom. It was a he (I mean, look at him).

When I was a kid, the only pet I was allowed were some measly goldfish. I nicknamed them after my older sister’s boyfriends and soon grew tired of watching them. All they did was stare idiotically at me and move their mouths. I yearned for a dog or cat, but never got either, even after I’d moved out of my parents’ house. Because by then, I realized that I was someone who could get emotionally attached to a box of paperclips, therefore it probably wasn’t the best idea.

So Pom was the perfect companion for me. He wasn’t much of a communicator, and he didn’t do anything exciting like grow flowers, but he was a great and steadfast friend. I made sure he got lots of sun and was careful not to overwater him. After only a few months together, I couldn’t imagine life without my old man cactus.

Then Pom developed a scary-looking brownish-white patch on his side. Within a few days it grew larger, and I feared the worst. When I told a botanist friend about it, she nodded sagely and told me, “Yep, bacteria—it’s the oldest life form.” The way she said it made me realize Pom’s days were numbered. Eventually he began to lean a bit and look even more like an old man.

At my wit’s end, I rushed him to the florist where my friend had purchased him. In a choked-up voice, I explained Pom’s dire situation to the kind man behind the counter, and said I’d do anything if he could save the life of my dear cactus. I even threw a crumpled $20 bill on the counter. He gingerly shoved the money back toward me and assured me that he could “do a little surgery that might—might—do the job.”

Scan 1

A few days later, I picked Pom up and was shocked at the stark, C-shaped gouge in his side. Not only was the infected portion gone, but so was a good part of the surrounding area. The plant doctor had done a very thorough job.

I placed Pom in a beam of sunlight and silently vowed to boil less pasta and take shorter hot showers—anything to lessen the amount of moisture in the apartment. But alas, rainy Seattle is not a kind place for a cactus. Eventually Pom lost his battle with fungus.

Since I didn’t have a yard to bury him in, I did the next best thing and put him in a plastic bag that had contained some Thai takeout. On the side that didn’t have a bunch of red THANK YOU’s printed on it, I wrote in marker, “Pom, you were a beloved friend ’til the end,” and added the date. Then I dropped the bag down the garbage chute of my apartment building and sobbed as it bounced along the sides on its way down to its final resting place, the dumpster.

It took me years to get over my old man cactus, and I swore I would never get another one. And there was absolutely no way I could ever get a furry, bright-eyed animal that would—god forbid—reciprocate the love I lavished on it. I may, however, get an oregano plant someday.

But in the meantime, I do have something cute (and mute) that greets me in the mornings. It’s a wool tomato my husband gave me after I lost Pom. The tomato’s name? Pom. But this one’s short for “pomodoro” (the Italian word for tomato). And yes, I’m quite attached to it.

Pom