Where do our true selves reside? One person can be so many things to the other people around us. Wife and companion, mother, friend and co-conspirator, teacher, sister, mentor, aunt, student, daughter, artist and consumer.
Recently, I have become painfully aware of the gaze that follows me around in China. I’m overly conscious of it. It haunts me. It is often followed by a laugh, giggle or an unfriendly word. Or is it really? Is it just my supra-awareness of something not there?
The wedding dress should represent a women at her most beautiful moment. Pure, virtuous, and ripe for the taking. These days of course, most of us are far from this untouched vision of womanhood, and feminism has taught us to rise beyond these bogus boundaries.
The wedding dress represents an untarnished commitment, to the spirit that stirs me to create art.
The wedding dress represents a commercial image of me, what others believe they see. Those that dare to go underneath can maybe catch a glimpse of who I really am.
Stripped down, exposed, judged laid bare. Do you still like what you see?
The first event of the PaR (Practice as Research) thesis project called the Black Body and Beauty in China a study by Glenis Paul at the China Academy of Art: Hangzhou China.
As a black woman in China, my daily interactions with the Chinese public require discipline and patience in a monolithic and sometimes xenophobic culture. In most Asian communities, dark skin is considered ugly, especially for women. This is a little known fact in the western world. Not only is the color of my skin ridiculed daily, the texture and maintenance of my hair is completely misunderstood.
Even within the diaspora of the black community, these features of beauty are just recently in the last 70 or so years being celebrated as a source of pride. I come from a community of deeply entrenched post-traumatic self-criticism, a community just beginning to celebrate the diversity in textures and tones of skin and hair. This tradition, which celebrates natural black beauty is still young but it is a passionate and vitally essential movement of which I have been a fervent participant in Barbados and in Brooklyn, New York. I was not prepared for the intensity of opinions among the Asian community that their own tanned yellow skins were ugly. If tanned Asian skin cannot be beautiful, where does that leave my black sisters?
This is the first issue I try to address in my work, but there is a deeper much more troubling issue at stake, understanding China on a deeper level than merely through the eyes of an outsider. I have lived in China for 6 years now, and have begun to set down firm roots in this country, some would say my practice, interactions and study of the language I have earned a kind of honorary membership. Honorary member or no, I am still an outsider, but I firmly believe that in order to make any inroads on this issue I must be able to see it as the Chinese do. So the under-lying question I wish to pose in this study is: In an increasingly international world, and as an outsider, how can I bring the deeply entrenched stigmas of colorism to light in China?
China is changing fast, and understanding the changes and my possible role in helping to orient positive attitudes towards other cultures as well as learning the values that these open views can bring to improve deeply entrenched and outdated cultural ideas, is the reason for this life changing move to China, the focus of my artwork and the content of this study.
The first piece is part of the series Tattoo and is called Stencil. It was done in collaboration with fellow performance artist Liu Xiao and with the help of Zhou Tengxiao, Sarah Malone and Liu Ni. Liu Xiao agreed to paint my back a color approximating the Asian skin tone, then write the well known Chinese saying, “一白遮百丑” which literally means, one white covers one hundred ugly. He then used a stencil knife to cut out the characters revealing the dark skin underneath. This event took place on October 13, 2-5pm at the Wushan Square during the China Folk Arts Festival.
Claiming Our Voice is a short documentary film by Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel sharing the stories of Andolan, a Queens-based workers center founded and led by South Asian immigrant women low-wage workers as a means to support each other and collectively organize against exploitative work conditions.
Domestic work includes childcare, cleaning and cooking and takes place in the home. The majority of domestic workers are female, foreign born and persons of color. Claiming Our Voice’s main characters work in this industry, are prone to low wages, long hours, no benefits, and extreme isolation. While the issue of domestic work has received increased attention, we rarely hear from domestic workers themselves. Through the course of the film, our characters are revealed as their own heroines – challenging stereotypical images of immigrants and low-wage workers as well as notions of culture, race, gender, and class.
Take a look at the video and I hope you will join the fight to make these women’s voices heard! Support in whatever way you can.
The image that best represent Louise Bourgeois’ spunk and sense of humor is this one, taken by Robert Maplethorpe in 1982 when she was 71 years old. She was born in Paris in 1911 and was 98 when she died in New York City in 2010.
Her huge spider sculptures which appeared outside numerous museums around the world, rank among the the most highly priced works by a woman artist to date, $10.7 million USD.
She is also known for her work made from collecting objects, and for soft sculptures and totemic forms. She was a pioneer for women, and encouraged young artists to her home in Chelsea for art talks. Also one of the first artists to use interior spaces she called “Cells”. Her work is emotionally charged and provocative.
Congratulations to the organizers and participants of the 9th Shanghai Biennale! It was a tremendous effort lead by the great talent Qiu Zhijie. It was such a pleasure to be a part of the amazing team that coordinated the Biennial. I certainly learned a lot about what it takes to put together this kind of show.
For the Curators a massive amount of research to find artists and funding. They must also coordinate with the museum and the artist. Dealing with all the politics on a personal level one moment and an international level the next. Then, they must carefully consider the very physical logistics of the space and installation of the work at a moment “art” can literally include anything. Not an easy task, but what could be more exciting?!!!
The Artistshave to deal with being in a foreign place with tremendous restrictions on their time and often their resources. I am sure the shift of place affects their psyche, but they should at the same time produce their work, re-created their idea in a clear defined way.
The Audience has the easiest, but possibly most important role. assimilating the work. I went to Shanghai on three occasions, and on each trip I identified with each separate role. Each role has it’s own set of challenges. I was neither a curator or an artist, and on my final trip I was there with my family. I therefore identify most with the audience role. The experience of the audience is so crucial. I really wish I had been able to see more of the show, but my 3 day trip was simply not enough time to visit the huge set of exhibits. Art takes time to be absorbed.
Considering the challenges and the vast scale of the project, I have more respect than ever for the efforts of Qiu Zhijie and his team.
The grand opening of the Shanghai Biennial is fast approaching. The main curator organizing this massage production is also the main adviser for my masters degree program at China Academy of Art, Professor Qiu Zhijie (邱志杰). The biennial will be in the brand new museum for modern art in Shanghai, the first exhibition held in this space. The existing factory space has been renovated and the new work is currently being installed.
The biennial’s framework has also been expanded this year for the first time to include several project outside the museum space, such as, the City Pavilion project and the Zhongshan Park project. In professor Qiu’s opinion, representing one’s city in this exhibition carries even more significance than representing one’s country and yet doesn’t present as strong of a political statement.
There will be about 28 cities represented, and I will be helping to build the Pittsburgh pavilion. Tomorrow the heavy work begins. I’ll update you on the progress.
The Shanghai Biennial is the reason I am away from home and free to write this blog post, but weather in Shanghai or Hangzhou, my experience walking on the street in China remains a constant challenge. Today as I stopped to buy a snack from a man selling wraps on the street, I lamented the fact that everyone constantly comments on my hair. The problem is the inevitable question and often belligerent and incorrect answer: “Is her hair real or fake?” “Of course it’s fake! It must be fake!”
It really maddens me that everyone believes my hair is fake. So much so that the question is rebuffed as a stupid one. And then there are the constant giggles and comments about my skin color. Women in China go to extreme lengths to prevent their skin from getting tanned. They prefer pearly white skin as a status symbol.
One of my friends in the art program, a tall and handsome white man from France pointed out that the issues of hair and skin are prevalent also in the black community. He says he always has to deal with people commenting on how tall he is. I don’t think he gets it. I guess I’ll have to take him out for a 30 minute walk one day. When people see two of us walking together as a couple, I’m sure he’ll begin to understand the depth of the problem.
I of course talk with tons of people everyday about where I am from and let them touch my hair. Today a woman in the restaurant where I ate dinner counted out my dreads. Apparently I have 220 dread locks. That was a fun interaction. On the 15 minute walk home I told myself that I should just focus on things like this and ignore everything else. It worked for about 5 minutes. A few people passed and stared, the usual question rang out. Ok, I can handle it. Then a couple passed by. The guy said, “Oh a black women.” After a few seconds they started to laugh loudly. I just can’t understand why that was so f—ing funny.
To see new work, please click on the sitemap in the sidebar, or click the “Artwork” tab.
The gallery consists mainly of images from my portfolio. These selected works were created, staged, performed and curated from 2002 through 2011. For works done after 2011, click on the Artwork tab, or use the sitemap in the sidebar.
The works are presented by category and are from a wide range of disciplines. The older work reflects my interest in the female body politic as an immigrant to the US from the Caribbean island of Barbados. Since then my aims have shifted to include projects which explore the ephemeral links connecting peoples and communities. Such projects include: Interweave – The Hair Project Series, SH, ZZ, NY; the Adventures in the Arts Series, NY and The Ten Scenic Spots of West Lake, HZ performance. These explorations all aim at bridging cultures and deconstructing stereotypes.
GALLERY BY TOPIC This slideshow and list act as a map for the website, as it also shows how the works are presented online. Please click on the list below or the images above to see more of that genre. Click the Artwork tab for the latest new work added.