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Crossing borders

In their global search for work, Filipinos cross borders both literal and figurative: moving from one country to another, they move across less tangible but no less real lines of social class, race, and national belonging; from “foreign” and “other” into the intimate spaces of homes and hospitals; and, often, from legal citizen to undocumented worker.


As American studies scholar Allan Punzalan Isaac notes in American Tropics: Articulating Filipino America (University of Minnesota Press, 2006), “[T]he concept of immigration (a dominant concern in Asian American studies) is historically and conceptually problematic in reference to Filipinos, who did not necessarily move through borders, but rather, borders continually enfolded them” (38). Further complicating the notion of borders, Filipinos have crossed, with varying ease, the borders of the Spain, Japan and the US under a succession of imperial flags. As national laws respond to global labor flows, Filipinos again find those borders enfolding and ejecting them in a continuous flux of legal and illegal belonging.

Seoul Home/Seoul Home/Kanazawa Home/Beijing Home

Do Ho Suh

2012 Silk, metal armature 575 in. x 285 in. x 156.5 in. © Do Ho Suh, Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong

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Do Ho Suh

b. 1962

Do Ho Suh is an internationally renowned Korean artist. Suh constructs site-specific installations and meticulously crafted sculptures that question boundaries of identity, conventional notions of scale, and space in both its physical and metaphorical manifestation.

Suh studied oriental painting at Seoul National University in the 1980s, and in 1991 he moved to the United States to study painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and sculpture at Yale University School of Art. He settled in New York in 1997, where he lived and worked until relocating to London in 2010. He currently maintains studios in London, Seoul, and New York.

Suh represented South Korea at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001 with his iconic work Some/One, constructed of military dog tags exploring individual and collective identity. Solo exhibitions of his work have been presented internationally, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, New York, 2001; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, 2002; Serpentine Gallery, London, 2002; Artsonje Center, Seoul, 2003; the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, 2005; Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York, 2010; DAAD Galerie, Berlin, 2011; Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore, 2011; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, 2012; Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima, 2012; 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, 2012–13; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, 2013; The Contemporary Austin, Austin, 2014; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015.

Suh’s work has been prominently featured in major group exhibitions and biennials worldwide, including the Istanbul Biennial, Turkey, 2003; Psycho Buildings, Hayward Gallery, London, 2008; Your Bright Future, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2009; Liverpool Biennial, 2010; Venice Architecture Biennale, 2010; Gwangju Biennale, 2012; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2013; Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2014; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2015; and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2015. His work is included in numerous museum collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Tate Modern, London; Leeum Samsung Museum, Seoul; Artsonje Center, Seoul; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, among many others.

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  • Born: Seoul, South Korea
  • Based: London, England, UK

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Somewhere Nowhere 7

Lek Borja

2011 Silver gelatin print and manual cutouts. 8 in. x 8 in. Courtesy of the artist.

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Lek Borja

b. 1984
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Lek Borja is an interdisciplinary artist and poet based in Los Angeles, CA. Her writings have appeared in US and international journals: Lantern Review, San Francisco Press’s Lady Jane Miscellany, REM Magazine, and Society for Curious Thought, among others. Her chapbook of experimental poetry, Android, was acquired by the Yale University Library for their special collections and is available at Plan B Press. She has exhibited or will be exhibiting her art works in Los Angeles and out-of-state galleries: the Loft at Liz’s, the Hi-Lite, and FrontierSpace. She can be contacted at www.lekborjastudio.com.

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  • Born: Tarlac, Philippines
  • Based: Los Angeles, CA, USA

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Somewhere Nowhere 4

Lek Borja

2011 Silver gelatin print and manual cutouts. 12 in. x 17 in. Courtesy of the artist.

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Lek Borja

b. 1984
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Lek Borja is an interdisciplinary artist and poet based in Los Angeles, CA. Her writings have appeared in US and international journals: Lantern Review, San Francisco Press’s Lady Jane Miscellany, REM Magazine, and Society for Curious Thought, among others. Her chapbook of experimental poetry, Android, was acquired by the Yale University Library for their special collections and is available at Plan B Press. She has exhibited or will be exhibiting her art works in Los Angeles and out-of-state galleries: the Loft at Liz’s, the Hi-Lite, and FrontierSpace. She can be contacted at www.lekborjastudio.com.

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  • Born: Tarlac, Philippines
  • Based: Los Angeles, CA, USA

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Somewhere Nowhere 3

Lek Borja

2011 Silver gelatin print and manual cutouts. 8 in x 18 in. Courtesy of the artist.

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Lek Borja

b. 1984
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Lek Borja is an interdisciplinary artist and poet based in Los Angeles, CA. Her writings have appeared in US and international journals: Lantern Review, San Francisco Press’s Lady Jane Miscellany, REM Magazine, and Society for Curious Thought, among others. Her chapbook of experimental poetry, Android, was acquired by the Yale University Library for their special collections and is available at Plan B Press. She has exhibited or will be exhibiting her art works in Los Angeles and out-of-state galleries: the Loft at Liz’s, the Hi-Lite, and FrontierSpace. She can be contacted at www.lekborjastudio.com.

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  • Born: Tarlac, Philippines
  • Based: Los Angeles, CA, USA

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Somewhere Nowhere 2

Lek Borja

2011 Silver gelatin print and manual cutouts. 8 in. x 12 in. Courtesy of the artist.

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Lek Borja

b. 1984
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Lek Borja is an interdisciplinary artist and poet based in Los Angeles, CA. Her writings have appeared in US and international journals: Lantern Review, San Francisco Press’s Lady Jane Miscellany, REM Magazine, and Society for Curious Thought, among others. Her chapbook of experimental poetry, Android, was acquired by the Yale University Library for their special collections and is available at Plan B Press. She has exhibited or will be exhibiting her art works in Los Angeles and out-of-state galleries: the Loft at Liz’s, the Hi-Lite, and FrontierSpace. She can be contacted at www.lekborjastudio.com.

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  • Born: Tarlac, Philippines
  • Based: Los Angeles, CA, USA

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Somewhere Nowhere 1

Lek Borja

2011 Silver gelatin print and manual cutouts. 16 in. x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

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Lek Borja

b. 1984
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Lek Borja is an interdisciplinary artist and poet based in Los Angeles, CA. Her writings have appeared in US and international journals: Lantern Review, San Francisco Press’s Lady Jane Miscellany, REM Magazine, and Society for Curious Thought, among others. Her chapbook of experimental poetry, Android, was acquired by the Yale University Library for their special collections and is available at Plan B Press. She has exhibited or will be exhibiting her art works in Los Angeles and out-of-state galleries: the Loft at Liz’s, the Hi-Lite, and FrontierSpace. She can be contacted at www.lekborjastudio.com.

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  • Born: Tarlac, Philippines
  • Based: Los Angeles, CA, USA

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This Is Not Me

Lin + Lam

2005 Mixed media installation: 1,000 found photo fragments and archival plastic sleeves Variable dimensions. Courtesy of Lin + Lam (Lana Lin and H. Lan Thao Lam).

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Lin + Lam

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Since 2001, Lin + Lam (Lana Lin and Lan Thao Lam) have produced multi-disciplinary research-based projects that address subjects such as immigration, sites of residual trauma, propaganda, democratization, militarism, national identity, and historical memory. Inspired by a particular site, historical incident, or political issue, their research takes the form of interviews, archival materials, site visits, and found objects. Their collaboration brings into conversation their divergent individual strengths. Lam's architectural training informs her work with materials, scale, and space, and Lin's experimental film background guides her attention to the formal capacities of moving image media. Emerging from the interrelation between current events and historical residues, their work offers a phenomenological context for understanding how the past impinges upon the present, and how the present shapes the ways we contend with the past. Their work takes place across a range of speeds, often requesting that viewers spend time with it and challenging them to be alert to things that might bypass them, from quotidian detritus to political regime change. Their recent collaborations have engaged social spaces where they put into question the politics of identity and cultural translation. These projects strive to speak alongside identities that travel across or between recognized categories. Lin + Lam approach their art practice as a means of negotiating difference, the difference in racial, gender, economic, and social status between themselves and a particular community and the differences inherent within the community itself. Involving themselves in an interrogative relation with their objects and areas of inquiry, they hope to foster productive interchanges between diverse and unlikely interlocutors. This may mean bringing together anachronistic sources, enacting counter-archival practices, or combining the personal with the political. The environments the artists construct or the events that they stage, whether physical or psychic, invite viewers and participants to contemplate the imbrication of history, power, desire, and memory.

This Is Not Me.

2005, mixed media installation; 1,000 found photo fragments and archival plastic sleeves

For several years, Lin + Lam have collected hundreds of abandoned identity card photo remainders from a police station in Taipei, Taiwan. Together these photographs represent to them a collectivity of ‘non-identities’: the people amongst us who are caught between visibility and invisibility. At once sad and comic, the faceless testify to the violence that severs individual selves into anonymous categories, such as “migrant,” “undocumented,” “alien,” “refugee,” “stateless.”

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the term “stateless person” refers to one who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law. The Webopedia Computer Dictionary defines “stateless” as “having no information about what occurred previously.” A stateless server, such as the World Wide Web, treats each request as an independent transaction without requiring any context or memory.

This is Not Me points to negation—as it exists in ourselves and at the hands of the bureaucratic state apparatus. Such negation arises at the very moment of a double recognition—self-recognition and recognition of the erasure of other bodies in the socio-political landscape.

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  • Born: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • Based: New York, NY, USA

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This Is Not Me (detail)

Lin + Lam

2005 Mixed media installation: 1,000 found photo fragments and archival plastic sleeves. Variable dimensions. Courtesy of Lin + Lam (Lana Lin and H. Lan Thao Lam).

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Lin + Lam

image description
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Since 2001, Lin + Lam (Lana Lin and Lan Thao Lam) have produced multi-disciplinary research-based projects that address subjects such as immigration, sites of residual trauma, propaganda, democratization, militarism, national identity, and historical memory. Inspired by a particular site, historical incident, or political issue, their research takes the form of interviews, archival materials, site visits, and found objects. Their collaboration brings into conversation their divergent individual strengths. Lam's architectural training informs her work with materials, scale, and space, and Lin's experimental film background guides her attention to the formal capacities of moving image media. Emerging from the interrelation between current events and historical residues, their work offers a phenomenological context for understanding how the past impinges upon the present, and how the present shapes the ways we contend with the past. Their work takes place across a range of speeds, often requesting that viewers spend time with it and challenging them to be alert to things that might bypass them, from quotidian detritus to political regime change. Their recent collaborations have engaged social spaces where they put into question the politics of identity and cultural translation. These projects strive to speak alongside identities that travel across or between recognized categories. Lin + Lam approach their art practice as a means of negotiating difference, the difference in racial, gender, economic, and social status between themselves and a particular community and the differences inherent within the community itself. Involving themselves in an interrogative relation with their objects and areas of inquiry, they hope to foster productive interchanges between diverse and unlikely interlocutors. This may mean bringing together anachronistic sources, enacting counter-archival practices, or combining the personal with the political. The environments the artists construct or the events that they stage, whether physical or psychic, invite viewers and participants to contemplate the imbrication of history, power, desire, and memory.

This Is Not Me.

2005, mixed media installation; 1,000 found photo fragments and archival plastic sleeves

For several years, Lin + Lam have collected hundreds of abandoned identity card photo remainders from a police station in Taipei, Taiwan. Together these photographs represent to them a collectivity of ‘non-identities’: the people amongst us who are caught between visibility and invisibility. At once sad and comic, the faceless testify to the violence that severs individual selves into anonymous categories, such as “migrant,” “undocumented,” “alien,” “refugee,” “stateless.”

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the term “stateless person” refers to one who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law. The Webopedia Computer Dictionary defines “stateless” as “having no information about what occurred previously.” A stateless server, such as the World Wide Web, treats each request as an independent transaction without requiring any context or memory.

This is Not Me points to negation—as it exists in ourselves and at the hands of the bureaucratic state apparatus. Such negation arises at the very moment of a double recognition—self-recognition and recognition of the erasure of other bodies in the socio-political landscape.

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  • Born: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • Based: New York, NY, USA

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Clare Counihan

b. 1977
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Clare Counihan earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and her B.A. in English Literature from Duke University. Her research focuses on contemporary southern African experimental literature and the relationship between narrative form and national belonging for unbeloved subjects. She is also deeply interested in food: eating it, cooking it, understanding the ways it reflects and mediates our identities and interactions.

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Sarita Echavez See

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Sarita Echavez See was born in New York City but raised as an "embassy brat" moving from city to city around the world. She received her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, where she first became involved with U.S. women of color politics, especially the arts and culture movement. She obtained her Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. While studying in New York City, she met the Filipino American artists and writers who inspired and continue to inspire her teaching and scholarship. In 2013, she joined the faculty of the University of California, Riverside, where she is an associate professor of Media and Cultural Studies. She previously taught at Williams College, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the University of California, Davis. Her research and teaching interests include Asian American and Filipino American cultural critique, postcolonial and empire studies, narrative, and theories of gender and sexuality. She is the author of the book-length study The Decolonized Eye: Filipino American Art and Performance (University of Minnesota Press, 2009), in which she argues that contemporary Filipino American forms of aesthetic and performative abstraction powerfully expose and indict the history of American imperialism as itself a form of abstraction. She is at work on the book-length project “Against Accumulation,” which is a study of the politics of accumulation in the American museum and university and of the politics of anti-accumulation in Filipino American theatre, writing, and visual art. She was one of the core organizers of the 2011 conference "Critical Ethnic Studies and the Future of Genocide" held at the University of California, Riverside, and she has served as a member of the working board of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association. In her work with the Center for Art and Thought and its focus on the contemporary medium of the digital, she envisions CA+T to be a transnational venue for more meaningful, reciprocal encounters between artists and scholars, and she is committed to fostering new forms of literacy, rather than tutelage, and to the transformation, rather than the mere transmission and replication, of knowledge.

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  • Born: New York, NY, USA
  • Based: Los Angeles, CA, USA

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Pig Face: A Love Story (Sisig)

Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik

2014 Watercolor on paper 5 in. x 7 in. Courtesy of the artist.

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Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik

b. 1981
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Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik is conceptual artist working with craft and food to tell the stories of migration. Sita holds a B.A. in Studio Art from Scripps College, and an M.F.A. in interdisciplinary art and an M.A. in Visual and Critical Studies from California College of the Arts. Raised in Los Angeles and based in Oakland, she is Indian and Japanese Colombian American. Sita has exhibited and collaborated in the US, Holland, Ireland, Hong Kong, and Mexico. Her projects include installing curry powder in a European castle, importing artisan goods over the US-Mexico border, and leading workshops about food, migration, and memory in Hong Kong. Her most recent project, Estamos contra el muro | We are against the wall, involved the collaborative construction of a border wall made entirely of piñatas. The East Bay Express described it as "the most joyous political critique of the year."
 
Sita is also a co-founder of the People's Kitchen Collective (PKC), who were named in 2016's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ YBCA 100 list. They are recipients of the Center for Asian American Media’s (CAAM) Advocate Award and were awarded support by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation Open Spaces Program. PKC recently exhibited with For Freedoms, the first artist-run super PAC at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York and at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center's Crosslines pop-up museum. The goal of The People's Kitchen is to not only fill our stomachs but also nourish our souls, feed our minds and fuel a movement.
 
 See also peopleskitchencollective.com.



 

For the Love/Hate of Curry

A golden, aromatic spice blend that is prized by some and reviled by others, curry powder is a polarizing substance. Over the past five years I have used it as a dye, perfume, and pigment in my art practice. But I rarely eat the bottled stuff.

What, exactly, is curry? It is a delicious dish and an inadequate word. As food historian Thy Tran once told me, it is a word that falls short because it attempts to use the language of the colonizer to describe the many foods of the colonized. The first reference to curry powder was published in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1961), a book to aid British housewives in the particulars of maintaining a proper home in the colonies. I began to trace my own history through an alternative spice route. Being Indian and Japanese Colombian American, we ate curry all the time in our house. Indian cooks don’t usually use curry powder--but my mother, who is Colombian-born Japanese, made the kind that came out of a box. She mixed it with chicken, carrots and potatoes to create one of my favorite meals (coincidentally, the most popular brand of curry powder happens to be my initials, “S&B” and so I took it as a sign that I was meant to work with the material). Why does Japan’s #1 dish come from a package? Japan was introduced to curry by the British who made a roux of flour and fat with the spice blend. The Indian varieties? Those were more difficult to define. My father is from a small village outside of Kolkata. I still have no idea what is and isn’t a “curry.” Neither does my family. It’s just food in sauce – but it’s so much more.

After my first installation with curry powder in 2008, I searched the phrase “smells like curry” online. I suppose I expected to find a racist joke or two and a few recipes. Instead, I found thousands of entries referring to the way Indian people smelled. The one I will always remember was a posting on Yahoo! Answers:

Q: Help, my neighbor’s house smells like curry.
A: Call the INS.

I became obsessed with this anonymous entry. For the first time I realized that race is constructed by more than what we see.

Over the next few years I sprinkled curry powder through the streets of Oakland, opened a Curry Institute (2011) at Whitman College, where visitors could chart their own Curry Cartography, and worked with perfumer Yosh Han to create a curry perfume called Gilt (2010) just because I wanted everyone to have the right to smell like curry. Eventually the spice pieces made their way onto the walls themselves.

Although my ingredients span the globe, I always source my materials from family-owned businesses. I had been purchasing ingredients from Bombay Bazaar, a hidden grocery store that had closed and re-opened in San Francisco’s wildly gentrifying Mission district. The last time I went in to say hello, the store had disappeared. Shelves, fluorescent lighting, and all. It is with the last batch of spices purchased at this shop that I created Dear Indian Grocery Store both in the bathroom of 18 Reasons in San Francisco and at the San Jose Museum of Art in November 2013. Feeling yet another loss in a city I recognize less and less, I wrote an open letter to the grocery store. This letter always accompanies the installation. As with my previous installations, the excess curry powder collected from the installation will be used to dye napkins and tablecloths for a sliding-scale community dinner. The curry powder is reserved for the art - it is rarely used in the cooking of the meal.

Most Indian cooks would never be caught with curry powder in their kitchens - it limits the complexity and variety of a dish. This powder is India concentrate. This is the myth we expect in Indian supermarkets, restaurants, and, yes, even people. But this complicated blend has also been transformed into the unique flavors of comfort all over the world.

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  • Born: Los Angeles, CA, USA
  • Based: Oakland, CA, USA

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