War Baby/Love Child: An Interview with Richard Lou
Richard Lou, Stories on My Back, 2012
According to the project's website, War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art "investigates constructions of mixed heritage Asian American identity in the United States. As an increasingly ethnically ambiguous Asian American generation is coming of age, this multi-platform project (book, traveling art exhibition, website and blog) examines how, or even if, mixed heritage Asian Americans address hybrid identities in their artwork, as well as how perspectives from critical mixed race studies illuminate intersections of racialization, war and imperialism, gender and sexuality, and citizenship and nationality."
The exhibition features work across diverse mediums by 19 emerging, mid-career and established artists who reflect a breadth of mixed heritage ethno-racial and geographic diversity: Mequitta Ahuja, Albert Chong, Serene Ford, Kip Fulbeck, Stuart Gaffney, Louie Gong, Jane Jim Kaisen, Lori Kay, Li-lan, Richard Lou, Samia Mirza, Chris Naka, Laural Nakadate, Gina Osterloh, Adrienne Pao, Cristina Lei Rodriguez, Amanda Ross-Ho, Jenifer Wofford and Debra Yepa-Pappan.
The exhibition is on display right now through June at the DePaul University Art Museum in Chicago. It will travel to the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in August and will remain there through January 19, 2014. If your travels don't take you to either of these places, you may purchase the book on Amazon that includes a series of critical essays, interviews and images of artwork associated with the exhibition. For updates on upcoming events, see the War Baby/Love Child Facebook page.
Richard Lou, Art Department chair at the University of Memphis, is kind enough to share some of his knowledge of and experiences with War Baby/Love Child here.
VM: How did you get involved with the War Baby/Love Child project?
RL: I got involved through Margo Menchida, a professor at the University of Connecticut and the preeminent scholar of Asian American contemporary art in the United States. I met her in the mid 1990s; she came to see my work in a show at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. She's been writing about my work on and off since then. When Laura Kina and Wei Ming Dariotis put War Baby/Love Child together, Margo recommended that I should be in the show as well. Laura Kina contacted me, I sent her my work, and that was it.
VM: Tell us a little about War Baby/Love Child and the two women that organized it, Laura Kina and Wei Ming Dariotis.
RL: Laura Kina is phenomenal. She's like a machine in regards to making art as well as organizing projects like War Baby/Love Child. Laura is an associate professor at DePaul University in Chicago. Wei Ming is at San Francisco State and she teaches Asian American Studies. They wrote several grants to put the show together at DePaul's brand new art museum and for the book published by the University of Washington Press. They also made a short video documentary in which some of the artists are interviewed.
VM: Tell us about the essay you wrote for the book.
RL: The essay was an opportunity for me to write about my work in a more theoretical and historical way. It gave me the opportunity to rethink and recontextualize an older piece that I discuss in the book called Border Door. For me to be able to think about Border Door twenty five years later was a real gift. I was also able to write about Los Anthropolocos, a body of work that me and my collaborator, Robert Sanchez, had not previously written about. We've written content for Los Anthropolocos: artist statements, narratives, and screenplays for videos we've produced. This was the first opportunity to create a reflective analysis of how Los Anthropolocos came about and the significant strategies at play in terms of the use of performance as a way of decolonizing the body. Through text, I was able to concretize the theorizing that occurred in the air between Robert Sanchez and myself regarding Los Anthropolocos.
It also gave me an opportunity to give credit where credit is due in terms of thanking and acknowledging people for their contributions to my formation as an activist and artist. This includes the Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego and, of course, the people associated with the Centro and many other centros in the Southwest. I wrote about individual artists, theoreticians and writers. Coco Fusco's ideas and her writing influenced my worldview, thus how I create work and strategize about different approaches to working.
VM: What work is included in the War Baby/Love Child exhibition?
RL: The show gave me an opportunity to create and think about new work, Stories on My Back, which is a body of work that continues to be developed. Although the work included in War Baby/Love Child is a snapshot of the larger exhibition I did at the Power House in Memphis a few years ago, it has evolved into a much larger, more complicated installation over time. While there was one story that was played in the Power House, there are now six stories. Instead of elements on the wall and ceiling, it is now a freestanding architectural piece through which the viewer navigates. As you walk through the installation, you hear parts of the stories being told. It also includes video projection. It has become much more complex, and I think that only happens when you work on your work, but also when there are opportunities afforded you. I've been very lucky that people invite me to have exhibitions. It's an opportunity where I can go into a space and really challenge myself, the space and the audience in regards to how they will position themselves to the physicality, narratives and world view of my work. War Baby/Love Child is an opportunity to articulate all these stories that I have and to figure out ways the audience can engage with them in the most dynamic way possible.
VM: What about the other artists participating in the exhibition?
RL: Some of the artists are the same ones I've been talking about for years to my students: Albert Chong is one of my all-time favorite artists and I'm delighted to be in the show with him. I'm a long-time admirer of Kip Fulbeck and Louie Gong. The really cool thing about War Baby/Love Child is that I've also been introduced to a lot of young artists: Gina Osterloh is a photographer who does really interesting work. As an artist, whenever there's a national show put together, it's a really wonderful opportunity to find out about other artists that are working in the same field with the same concerns that articulate these issues in their own way, based on their own experiences and ideological framework. It's really exciting to see what they're doing.
VM: How do you think War Baby/Love Child contributes to a national/international dialogue about Asian American art and culture?
RL: War Baby/Love Child is - dare I say it - an important landmark show. It's not just about Asian Americans (which is important unto itself). It's also about redefining the Asian American experience within the confines of the United States as a group of people based on ethnicity and how that ethnicity is articulated and rearticulated moment by moment. We are in the process of reinventing and redefining who we are vis-a-vis the strong traditional narratives of being Chinese in contrast with being Chinese American in contrast with being Chinese American Mexican (in my case). Albert Chong: Chinese African American. Kip Fulbeck: Chinese and White. Laura Kina: Filipino, Hawaiian, German and Jewish. It really talks about breaking the stereotype of these closed Asian societies and seeing them as these monoliths but viewing them through the model of the diaspora. How has this monolith been dismantled by intermarriage? Especially in regards to the United States, how has the legality of marriage to Asians and other ethnic groups been managed by specific racial and immigration laws in the United States? What about Japanese internment camps and foreign policy in the United States as an imperial power? There is also the settlement of Asian Americans as an intellectual and cultural labor force. All of this is coming into play in this exhibition.
I must also emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of the work. In academia, I think interdisciplinary work is work of survival. We can't examine our world using one discipline at a time; it's just impossible. All artists involved in War Baby/Love Child are interdisciplinary: it's not just about aesthetics but also history and all sorts of things. I think when we start looking at our world and the relationships we have with each other in a more holistic way, we're much better off. War Baby/Love Child is a very rich exhibition where these artists are, in a sense, singing in unison their own story. It's a wonderful thing to be a part of.