Cultural Politics | July 2017 | Volume 13.2 : 194-201; doi:10.1215/17432197-4129137
I strive to amplify invisible, suppressed stories shrouded in the geopolitical shadows of colonialism-induced migration through site-responsive installations, participatory and lecture performances, trilingual publishing, and experiential technologies. My research-creation process connects me to scholars, scientists, and community advocates to collectively address the skewed politics of the archive within and beyond institutional walls. I am fascinated with the relationship between Asia and the Americas, between diaspora and indigeneity, and the oceanic circulations that connect islands to islands, continents to continents, and cultures to cultures. I attempt to capture memory, affect, smell, social imaginary—intangible undercurrents whose pervasive interconnectivity threads our humanity. This essay delves into the thought processes and multiplatform artistic practices of my most recent projects: Aromérica Parfumeur, Mannahatta VR, and Rhunhattan.
In August 2016, I opened Aromérica Parfumeur, an exhibit that passed as a perfume boutique in a Chilean shopping mall. The installation sought to expound on settler colonialism through an aromatic archive on social botanical history. I made up the word Aromérica to combine aroma and América to draw out how the foundation of the Americas was borne out of a search for spices as conquistadores were, first and foremost, spice hunters. Aromérica’s “fragrance line” boasted of “eau de Colón” (Cologne), which is a play on the Spanish pronunciation of Columbus; “Blanc Le Colonial” (Colonial White), which was nauseatingly sugary; “El Picante” (The Spicy), which references “El Dorado” and was shocked with sharp notes of nutmegs and cloves; and “Oro Negro” (Black Gold), Malabar pepper. The conceptual and physical properties of perfume represent the ultimate alienation of plants from native origins, as analyzed by visual culture scholar Daniela Bleichmar (2012). The process of removing “exotic” plants from their natural habitats in order to distill them for their olfactory properties mirrors the caste …
September 30, 2014
Eight years ago I was told the story of two Chinese coolies who had escaped to the Peruvian Amazon, founded a village called El Chino, which means “The Chinese,” and begun a small tapioca business before vanishing mysteriously. I grew curious about what the Chinese were doing in South America, let alone, the rain forest. Two years later I moved from New York to Lima, Peru, to retrace the geography of nineteenth-century Chinese coolie labor as well as the imaginary of Asia in the Americas, given that Peru has the highest ratio of Asian Latin Americans. When I asked limeños for travel advice on the Amazon, several well-intentioned folks warned me of river pirates, reptilian predators, terrorist activity, drug trafficking, and other perils. Undeterred, I began mapping the escape route of the rumored coolies, who had fled harsh labor conditions in search of a road home to China. I then followed the various Chinese migration waves toward the Andes and the Amazon River Basin, weaving together migratory landmarks while documenting oral histories from elders. En route I resurrected...[Read more here]
Taparaco Myth is a trilingual artist book written in Spanish, English and Chinese about artist Beatrice Glow’s auto-ethnographic journey into retracing the geography of nineteenth-century Chinese coolie labor in Peru. Initially inspired by how her family maintains connections within the diaspora via moths that serve as messengers when a relative passes away in her family’s native Taiwan, on this road, she is guided by the moth — and then by grasshoppers, bees, blue flies and the "taparaco" owl butterfly —, to traverse the historical realities and social imaginaries of Asia in the Americas. En route Glow resurrected memories from cemeteries, guano mines on the Chincha Islands, coastal sugar and rice plantations, and railroads that led into the Andes, until arriving by peque peque canoe to El Chino in the Amazonian Rainforest, where no Chinese live.
A limited edition of the book includes an audio CD recording of the interviews with Chinese-Peruvian descendants.
Museum of Modern Art, Library; Poets House, Archive; The Center for Book Arts; Museum of Chinese in America, Archive; Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia, Library; Stanford University Library