Growing up in post-colonial Hong Kong, I was continuously told that I was ugly, and how I should get plastic surgery to “fix” my face. Contrastly, upon moving to America, I experienced being perceived as beautiful due to my exotic otherness. I have struggled to accept this polarized dichotomy of being. This cross-cultural experience contributed to a conundrum when forming my self image as a young adult. Am I beautiful or am I ugly? My immigrant identity is a paradoxical one, like that of many other immigrants. If I choose to be beautiful, does it mean I have to fetishize myself in order to do so? And if I choose to remain ugly, is it still a value assigned to me by others? How do I claim ownership of my identity if it is influenced and determined by the external? Chinese, American, Texan, genderqueer, bisexual. These words have meanings, but who get to decide what they mean and what they mean together?
I feel powerless when my identity is determined by others. I wanted to take that right to determine back for myself, by making work that requires meticulous craft and patience from myself. Through my work, I am able to express my ultimate struggle with my relationship with beauty, I am able to prove that my beauty is work, and not determined by random genetics and cultural context. My images are visual paradox that comments on the relationship between beauty and grotesque, and the correlation of fantasy and physical reaction from desire. They are also visual puzzles that encourage viewers to ask questions of their own.
What does intersectional feminism mean to you?
I have a complicated relationship with the word feminism by itself, because I think a lot of times it gets misconstrued as something that is only for women, and it divides people by tribal / sports team mentality.
I think the word intersectional feminism gives way to more discussions that cater to woc and other queer poc, so I think in a way it’s great to have these terms. But ultimately, I don’t believe in living life by labels. I think people have used these kinds of phrases or words – feminist, intersectional feminist, lib fem, rad fem, etc, – as badges. These words serve a function to categorize forums of discussion, they should not be worn as badges. I believe in the free exchange of ideas between all kinds of feminist ideology, and I think it’s better for people to be able to move between these ideologies rather than box themselves in one category or another.
The trouble with feminism is that it claims that all women in the world have a shared experience and therefore shared cause for liberation. Intersectional feminism attempts to free itself from that idea by including the multitude of experiences by women across different cultural backgrounds.
How does activism show up in your work?
I don’t really put activism in my work, so I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to speak on that. I don’t feel comfortable claiming that I make my work for any cause, it’s strictly just for me to express my thoughts.
I think conventionally speaking, it’s a selfish act, although I don’t necessarily see it that way. The way I operate on an interpersonal level is always to share openly about myself, so I can make others feel more comfortable to share about themselves. I am not as interested in the side of organizing big events of activism, because I think a lot of times little voices are not heard in a big group, so I guess my little personal crusade is to encourage others to speak their minds and be loud, and recognizing that there is only power in sharing yourself and being willing to be vulnerable. The visual puzzle part of my work encourages people to ask a lot of questions, I often use that as a way to start conversations with other people. There are also a lot of queer humor in my work, and it’s visually presented in a very delicious way. I want viewers to not be able to stop looking at it- this is usually when they start asking the questions.
I find that there is a lot of power in being the change rather than to make others change.