The piece, Space across Oceans, is an abstract representation of the Asian-American experience during COVID-19. I wanted to highlight the assimilations of American societal standards that Asian-identifying folks go through, whether aware of it or not, to avoid racial confrontations and violence. The mesh cloth represents a physical mask, depicting COVID-19 pandemic, and a metaphorical mask that Asian-Americans wear to assimilate to American culture.
Taking on this project, I wanted to combine aspects of Cambodian Classical Ballet, makeup, and photography to create a cohesive look. By applying traditional poses from Cambodian Ballet, I wanted to ground my piece that amplifies Asian experiences with my own ethnic Identity. As a second-generation Cambodian American, I’m constantly faced with confrontation of bringing my home cooked meals for lunch, using my native tongue with family members who pick me up after school, and even listening to Cambodian music. The constant ridicule and questioning that takes place specifically about my identity has made it hard to present myself authentically in social spaces. With the rise of xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiments during COVID-19 affecting so many innocent Asian Americans, the issue felt close to home.
Using makeup, I wanted to portray the internal conflicts of what it’s like being an Asian American living in the states. Though having been born in the states, I felt that I was solely characterized by my Asian identity when it was convenient. This idea of tokenism followed my existence and my “Asian-ness” was only valued and highlighted in society when opportunities arise. To capture this picture of existing and navigating as a proud presenting Asian-American and specifically Cambodian, I used makeup and body paint to create a look that embodied that part of my cultural identity. By having a part of my face cut out and colored blue — I wanted to showcase the vast oceans and transportation tools that my family had to use to get here. Followed by the inscriptions of clouds, flowers, and wind to mimic the plates and “china” we would have growing up and eating from to represent my identity. By incorporating photography, I also wanted to showcase how this physical coexistence of both cultures is continuously depicted even when there are tensions in what it means to assimilate to “American Standards”. Taking this art to be photographed in different locations and places represents the daily lives that many Asian-American take part in. This helps further the un-exchangeable livelihoods of the identities we express and carry as people part of our society.