South China Morning Post on For Ornamental Purposes

“Why is being an Asian-American woman in the US still a danger? Art exhibition in tribute to Christina Yuna Lee seeks answers”

Danielle Wu
April 18, 2022

What permissions does the occasion of grieving unlock?

This unspoken question lingered in the air along with the faint fragrance of incense at the opening reception for “With Her Voice, Penetrate Earth’s Floor” at New York’s Eli Klein Gallery on April 13.

The group exhibition is a tribute to Christina Yuna Lee, a former employee of the gallery who was tragically murdered in her home in Manhattan’s Chinatown in early February. […]

The exhibition is titled after a poem by Korean-American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, who was murdered under eerily similar circumstances in Manhattan 30 years ago. All exhibiting artists identify as women belonging to the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

Ultimately, the exhibition searches for the reasons why Lee’s identity — an Asian-American woman — is one that continues to endanger those who live with it. 

It is not a yearning for representation, but rather the heavy burden that some bodies carry to represent nations oceans away, that the exhibition aims to confront. 

What unifies the artists is a shared understanding of “what the experience is in the US right now, what Christina’s experience was in New York”, Huang says. The degree to which race and gender factored into Lee’s death remains unclear, although reported hate crimes against Asian-Americans have been rising since their false association with the coronavirus pandemic.

Haena Yoo printed a number of recent newspaper articles reporting anti-Asian violence on rice paper and folded the printouts into gun-shaped sculptures; Astria Suparak’s For Ornamental Purposes (2022), a three-channel video, used scenes from films that cast Asian women only to be desired and conquered, pointing to the harm made possible by fantasy.

A series of photographs by Hong-An Truong are taken from films shot by Western soldiers during the Vietnam war, capturing unsuspecting Vietnamese women strolling by in traditional ao dai dresses. The casual voyeurism feels as intrusive as the American occupation in Vietnam, a gaze that trespasses while masquerading as a valiant saviour of democracy. […]

What does a “white cube” gallery exhibition in memory of Lee provide that the scheming world of politics cannot? For the curator at least, it creates a rare space for AAPI women to mourn personal and cultural losses, and it grants permission to mourn for permanent losses that cannot be resolved by policy and legislation.

As Huang writes about childhood memories of attending funerals in China: “We have been robbed, as members of the diaspora in the West, from our grieving processes. Our grieving spaces, also, stolen.”

Such a loss has inspired new languages for this group of artists. On a pair of canvases, Maia Ruth Lee paints the silhouettes of disassembled garment patterns, a memorial to what life lived inside those clothes. […]

“With Her Voice, Penetrate Earth’s Floor” carves quiet moments like these to express how it feels to be broken.


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