As a Chinese immigrant, I identify a great deal with Afong, the main character of THE CHINESE LADY by Lloyd Suh. The play touches on so many of the same issues I experienced as a young man. I arrived in the US when I was just turning 16 — my naïveté and my enthusiasm for coming to live in this new country that I had heard about so much in my childhood. Like Afong, I would truly find myself only after a long gestation period and then awakened to the political reality of being a gay Asian man living in America: my body, my look, and my sex are constantly subjected to the ever-present “gaze,” which also took on different “flavors” as I moved across the country from the East Coast to Middle America to the end of the Oregon Trail. I could be considered a member of the model minority in one instant, and dismissed as a bad Asian driver in the next; or I could be assumed to be quiet and submissive, or considered effeminate, not because I am gay, but because I am an Asian man. Sometimes, the “gaze” also makes me feel invisible or erased. Like when I visited a predominantly white gay bar. In another incident, I was mistaken as a Chinese food deliverer when visiting a friend in his Greenwich Village condo building.
When I moved to Portland in 1994, I was surprised to discover a wealth of Chinese immigrant history in Oregon. The artwork at the lobby of Ellyn Bye Studio came from two of my previous projects on the topic of Chinese immigrant experience: A Pilgrim’s Progress (1995) and China Wall (1998). The works are updated as a special installation to complement the questions and ideas elicited by the play. A Pilgrim’s Progress represents a search for identity for Asian Americans in the West. The portraits mounted on scrolls, depict my light-hearted pilgrimage through the Oregon landscape posing as famous classical nudes of Western history of art. They chart a personal journey through the labyrinth of identity politics of contemporary art, and the bewilderment of cultural dislocation as a gay Asian man living in the American West. The costumes from China Wall pay tribute to the Chinese laborers of the Old West and surmise their dreams and yearnings. The design on one of the two period costumes is created out of tea leaves, which is essential to Chinese daily life and can be enjoyed by both emperors and laborers alike. The other costume is covered with gold leaf — in reference to the gold mining activities performed by the Chinese miner. These works are about discovering the collective identity and the transformation of the individuals through immigration experience.
Horatio Hung-Yan Law is a Portland-based installation and public artist who focuses on making creative projects with communities. The core of his art stems from his Asian American identity and his experience as an immigrant. His projects explore the effects of our current culture of consumption and issues of identity, memory, history, and the meaning of community in a global culture. His ongoing Instagram project, Urban Studies, which began just before the Covid-19 shutdown, documents his daily exploration in the urban environment and encounters with beauty, mystery, and simplicity in these complicated but strangely hopeful times.