Monstrous Beauty (a placeholder for someone without a place), 2023
Installation shots, Photos taken by Christopher Wormald.
Monstrous Beauty (a placeholder for someone without a place), delves into porcelain, sugar, and chinoiserie, a pattern adopted by the Europeans in the 17th and 18th century as an idyllic and exoticized interpretation of Asian people and life. I am interested in its relationship to diasporic distance, belonging, and the consequences of colonial globalization reproduced within domestic spaces. This body of work is preoccupied with interiority and the influences, perceptions, and interpretations one performs in the creation of self – one that exists in the in-between, the liminal.
"Given that the afterlife of slavery means that black death is the normative condition of civil society, what is the character of the aesthetic in the context of terror? Does death find its antidote in beauty? Do we find a way of regarding death and reckoning with it in beauty or impossible beauty or monstrous beauty?” Christina Sharpe: On Archives
“What happens when we consider ornamental forms and fungible surfaces, rather than organic flesh, as foundational terms in the process of race-making? For a long time now, there have been two primary frameworks through which many of us conceptualize racial embodiment: Frantz Fanon’s “epidermal racial schema” and Spillers’s “hieroglyphics of the flesh.”The former denaturalizes Black skin as the product of a shattering white gaze; the latter has been particularly powerful in training our gaze on the Black female body and the ineluctable matter of ungendered, jeopardized flesh. Yet in the years since its revolutionary impact, has the “epidermal racial schema” hardened for us into a thing of untroubled legibility. To what extent have the “hieroglyphics of the flesh” prevented us from seeing an alternative materialism of the body?
Saidean Orientalism and the Foucauldian critique that it entails have not been able to focus on the peculiar materiality of Asiatic, female flesh, its impossibilities and possibilities. Encrusted by representations, abstracted and reified, the yellow woman is persistently sexualized yet barred from sexuality, simultaneously made and unmade by the aesthetic project. Like the proverbial Ming vase, she is at once ethereal and base, an object of value and a hackneyed trope. Like the Black woman, she has suffered a long history of painful denigration; she, too, has been enslaved, abused, mummified, spectacularized, and sold. Yet her discursive construct is qualitatively different. Consider the two iconic nineteenth-century images of racialized femininity in plates 1 and 2. On the one hand, Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman, the so-called Hottentot Venus (plate 1), was reduced to bare flesh, what Spillers calls “the zero degree of social conceptualization”; on the other hand, Afong Moy, a young Chinese woman imported by the Carne Brothers and later taken over by P. T. Barnum to tour major U.S. cities in the 1830s–1850s as a living museum tableau and known simply as the Chinese Lady (plate 2), offered a scopic pleasure that centered on her textual thickness: her material, synthetic affinities. The latter’s appeal does not derive from her naked flesh but from her decorative (and projected ontological) sameness to the silk, damask, mahogany, and ceramics alongside which she sits. While primitivism rehearses the rhetoric of ineluctable flesh, Orientalism, by contrast, relies on a decorative grammar, a phantasmic corporeal syntax that is artificial and layered. If Black femininity has been viciously erased by a cultural logic that has reduced it to, in Spillers’s words, “transitional mere flesh,” then yellow femininity has been persistently presented as something more like portable supra flesh. Spillers famously observed that, since the Black female is barred from crossing the symbolic threshold into personification, she is stuck on the threshold dividing the human and the not human, rendering her “vestibular to culture.” Where Black femininity, mahogany, and ceramics alongside which she sits. While primitivism rehearses the rhetoric of ineluctable flesh, Orientalism, by contrast, relies on a decorative grammar, a phantasmic corporeal syntax that is artificial and layered. Where Black femininity is vestibular, Asiatic femininity is ornamental.” Anne Anlin Cheng. Ornamentalism (p. 4-6). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
"Is the desire for the Other (Auturi) an apatite or a generosity?" Sharon Ptricia Holland quoting Manuel Levinas. The Erotic Life of Racism.
"The mouth is a doorway into the consuming body… a site of biopolitical intensity in the United States." Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century
"...Despite all our desperate, eternal attempts to separate contain and mend, categories always leak." Trinh T. Minh-ha. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism
"Go ahead– tear it all open. Let's be beatific in our leaky and limitless contagion." Legacy Russel, Glitch feminism.