The new normal, it seems, can hardly leave old prejudices behind. Dubbed by elected demagogues and online clickbait as the “China virus,” the COVID-19 pandemic has seen racial discrimination toward people of Asian descent surge to a new peak. (The kinder word is “uptick.”) While the new normal was never auspicious to begin with, its potential for positive change is a thinning veneer. A reality that spurs projects like Within Global Isolation: Asian Artists in America is a reality hard to swallow.
Rows of eggshells stood upright make up the fragility exposed in Ying Zhu’s 2009 “Defense Line.” Mouth props contrive smiles from a class of fidgety, drooling Asian children as they sing for Leonard Suryajaya’s chilling “American Anthem.” We encounter these artworks and more revitalized in WGI, the first of an upcoming virtual exhibition series by curators Chandler Allen and Hongzheng Han.
A gathering of ten Asian artists in the country engaged in themes of cross-cultural identity and governance, past works of Hương Ngô, Guanyu Xu, Leonard Suryajaya, Ying Zhu, Siyuan Tan, Zhen Guo, Damien Ding, Tin Wai Wong, Weina Lee, and Toby Zeng are presented anew in light of the pandemic. Included alongside the artworks are interviews with the artists, where personal grapples with the Asian diaspora—and views toward coexistence in general—unfold.
Hosted on a website Allen and Han built from the ground up, the project received zero external funding. The artists themselves participated out of their own volition. The outcome, as the curators wrote for Artsy, “relied solely on the determination of each person involved.”
As the curators’ statement of purpose makes clear, this virtual exhibition presents no answers and tells no narratives. The conversational turn to individuals keeps things grounded and is all the more honest for it.