performance: 60 hours, May 17-June 2, 2012, in The Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery
installation: video, digital prints, curtains, photo albums, bed, side tables, lamps and body
during the exhibition, i lay on a bed 60 hours in the gallery, inviting audience to come to my bed to chat and sleep with me.
I started the Husbands and I performance in 2009; I wore my Chinese traditional dress, walking on streets in Vancouver and asking white males to have photo taken with me by suggesting them to be my husband for a minute. I have had photo with 325 men. In September 2010, I advertised myself in various media as “an exotic, compliant and artistic Asian girl, looking for a white husband who would like to take me to his home and live with him for a day as his mail order bride.” I lived with men who responded my advertise a day. This performance ended in June 2011.
I emigrated from China to Canada several years ago. I regard the whole process of immigration as a marriage, and myself is like a mail order bride. I married Canada that I had never seen before, suddenly transforming myself from a Chinese to a Chinese Canadian or Canadian. My identity is not constructed by Canadian history, its culture or its beautiful landscapes, but the white males who are beside me. The physical encounter between me and the white males actually is an ideological confrontation between me and the Western social and political landscape that I live in but don’t belong to. The process looking for a white man is a process of looking for home. However, unfortunately, the home is temporary and the relationship is ephemeral. Nevertheless, by exploring intimacy with them, I try to not only reconfigure the established centred power that the privileged white males embody, but also question whether the culturally interpreted Chinese female body, both as a foreign subject and object, can be invested and exploited, most importantly, question whether the concept of the borders still exists although physical borderline is crossed.
In an era of globalization and transnational migration, contact between cultures has given rise to pluralized and hybrid cultures. While celebrating and embracing this cultural hybridity, as an Asian Canadian, I have turned my attention to racialized individuals and minority groups, especially Asian women living in North America. Even though the world is constantly changing, the representation of Asian women doesn’t seem to change much in context of Western culture. In fact, the experience of the Asian women as enmeshed, to different degrees, with pre-existing visual representations of Orientalism and stereotyping is still normalized in modern Western culture. This situation results in a state of doubled oppression for Asian women—there is oppression both from within their own cultural communities, and oppression from external expectations relating to women of colour. This double oppression demands a performative cultural expression of racialized people according to both external and internal pressures, often resulting in a metaphorical silencing of the unique individual.
Wearing a Chinese traditional dress and acting as stereotype of an Asian woman in Western fascination might be regarded as self-essentialization, which conveys negative implication. However, this self-essentialization is not a self-generalization or self- generalizing my own Chinese essential attributes, but a self-consciousness of collectivity which is thinking the essence of my groups with awareness of the social relations and my own situation. As a result, it is a strategy. As a strategy, this self-essentialization is a political choice, a choice of deliberately acting out on culture. It is a social performance, a performance that creates a culture of resistance because in doing so the resistances can be recognized.
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