Soul Mining: The influence of Asian culture and labor in Latin America.
Curated by Julio Cesar Morales and Xiaoyu Weng
September 23 - December 30, 2017
When the United States signed into federal law the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, Chinese immigration was suspended. The formerly welcomed Chinese laborers were expelled and began moving south into Mexico and Latin America. It is said that the original fence along the southern border was built not to keep the Mexicans out but rather to detour Chinese immigrants from re-entering the United States. The narrative in the exhibition reflects a complex history of forced migration tied deeply to a web of social, political and economic issues. Forced migration is a general term that refers to the movements of displaced people due to natural, environmental and man-made disasters, such as hurricanes, infectious disease outbreak, civil strife and international wars.
At the same time, immigration – in particular, involuntary displacement – is not an objectified fact or a disembodied phenomenon but an intimate and personal experience in flesh and blood. Featuring artworks by artists from Latin America, the United States and Asia, Soul Mining looks at the influences of Asian culture and the history of labor in the Americas. By focusing on the “body and soul” of the stories, the aftermath and the current social conditions, the works explore the possibility of transforming the estranged “otherness” into a familiar collective experience. The result reveals a process that privileges artistic imagination over political statement.
The narrative of the exhibition begins with a self-portrait by Suwon Lee, which features the artist herself, the daughter of Asian immigrants, sitting among a group of Venezuelans in a commuter bus. The exhibition ends with a self-portrait by Mimian Hsu that captures the artist in traditional Costa Rican attire, posing in front of a Chinese restaurant called La Gran China (the Great China). The image makes a connection to Brandon Som’s poem Chino: “Where I’m the only chino. How might I see through my family’s eyes — an owl’s eyes in ojos and one in its lid turned sideways.” Here, the personal and the social, the everyday and the historical overlap, interweave and interpenetrate to explore where the singular becomes plural.
—Julio César Morales, curator ASU Art Museum and Xiaoyu Weng, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Curator of Chinese Art at the Guggenheim Museum, New York
Suwon Lee (b. in Venezuela)
San Ruperto, 2004
Archival pigment print
12 x 16 in (30 x 40 cm)
Taken with a point-and-shoot camera, San Ruperto features an ordinary scene of the interior of a bus and its passengers. The 'San Ruperto' bus is a vintage model that has long gone out of circulation but was solely used by working-class people to commute in Venezuela. On the bus, the workers, the mother holding her baby, the contemplative senior rider and the artist herself — the daughter of immigrants — all share a temporary transit space despite their different identities and cultural backgrounds.
For Suwon Lee, this image is a self-portrait of her experience as an immigrant from Asia growing up in Venezuela who constantly wonders how she fits in or stands out in a foreign society. It fulfills her curiosity of seeing herself from an outside perspective. More importantly, it is also a metaphor for the stories of many immigrants whose anxiety and fear of alienation and strangeness are not only a social phenomenon but also very real human experiences.