You Make a Half of Me (screen capture)Kenji C. Liu
2016 Screen capture of video performance Courtesy of the artist
Kenji C. Liu
Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Taiwanese father, the laws at the time excluded me from Japanese citizenship. Because of my father, I was an alien and a ward of the Republic of China, a place I had never seen. Ironic, considering that my father was born into the Japanese Empire. This legal twist, among several others I have explored in my poetry collection Map of an Onion, is a major crux in my creative and scholarly practice.
I am interested in the documents of the state, or what documentation does or does not permit. By document I mean anything from citizenship or residence papers to federal laws or medical examinations. How does a document, or a series of documents, create a certain kind of person, a certain kind of body?
Simultaneously, my experiential practice as a vipassana meditator provides a different yet compatible perspective on personhood and embodiment—that ultimately, what we take to be natural or solid are neither. That what we consider to be a solid self is an amalgamated series of reactions to our experiences.
My current work is the decolonial exploration of an intersection—between the formation of a legal subject (by legal I don’t mean a person given legitimacy through law, but rather a type of person defined and created by law, whether citizen, resident, alien, undocumented, gender, race, etc.) and the formation of our sense of solid self, forged through very personal yet also social, political, economic experiences.
In this work I draw heavily on post-structural and post-colonial scholarship, attempting to sense into biopolitics and governmentality as they are deployed, as we deploy them, as deployment occurs. Equally important are Theravadan Buddhist suttas explicating the ways we form a sense of self (dependent origination or paticcasamuppada), the Four Noble Truths, and the cessation of dukkha. Together, these bodies of thought provide a view into not only how the self is made, but also how it can be remade or unmade—an essential insight for the practice of decolonization.
My poetry collection Map of an Onion is national winner of the 2015 Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize. My poetry is in many places, including American Poetry Review, Action Yes!, Split This Rock’s poem of the week series, four anthologies, and a chapbook, You Left Without Your Shoes. I have received fellowships from Kundiman, VONA/Voices, Djerassi, and the Community of Writers, and hold an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Social Transformation.
Photo credit: Margarita Corporan
- Born: Kyoto, Japan
- Based: Los Angeles, CA, USA
- Also Based in: Oakland, CA, USA