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#WeToo: About the Art

What histories and discourses are inscribed on the body?

#WeToo is a collection of essays, poems, creative nonfiction, and experimental works published in the Journal of Asian American Studies and in part here on The Margins, as part of a special partnership. Together, this body of work provides language and theory for lived experiences of sexual violence in what is usually dismissed as privileged, unafflicted model-minority life.

Edited by erin Khuê Ninh and Shireen Roshanravan, the larger collection of work is now available in the February 2021 issue of the Journal of Asian American Studies, available for purchase here.

For the series published on The Margins, we had the great pleasure of collaborating with the artist Catalina Ouyang, pairing photographs of her installation work with each piece in this issue. Ouyang describes her body of work as follows:

My practice, which I frame as “undisciplined,” addresses themes of trauma, desire, and dissidence. I draw holistically from literature, history, myth, and memory to create objects, videos, and performances that indicate counternarratives around identification, representation, and self-definition. Responding to the deeply-rooted fear and hatred of what is discursively rendered as the “feminine” (historically used to justify structural and colonial violence), my work is driven by the notion that violence is both horrific and common, and guided by thinkers such as Veena Das, Frantz Fanon, and Sara Ahmed.  

My sculptures merge wood, plaster, steel, bone, stone, hair, salvaged objects, and other materials to produce intensively modeled objects on the edge of recognition. The sculptures evoke the monstrous, the Othered, the erotic, and the cast out. Much of the work begins with the human figure and either expands or fragments it, proposing the body as a politicized landscape subject to partition. Key to my work is how the body is oriented in space: the sculptural body, and the viewer’s body. What histories and discourses are inscribed on the body? How does it exist in contingency with architecture? I am invested in the power relations of a scene, and the ways that proprioception is present, politicized, and usually unspoken.

Catalina Ouyang’s work as paired with the #WeToo collection on The Margins

#WeToo: An Introduction by erin Khuê Ninh and Shireen Roshanravan

When it comes to how rape culture is enabled, made mundane, what are the hard questions we have not yet posed?

Catalina Oyuang Catalina Ouyang. doubt II (the thing itself and not the myth / what blood relation / turning horror into power / the sea that we carried for you / Do you not love us? ) 2020

hand-carved alabaster, M1905 bayonet, lime plaster, gypsum plaster, horse hair, faux fur, pigment, epoxy resin, beeswax, burned rug, gauze, sewing pins, rat bones

from cunt waifu

Rape Is/Not a Metaphor by Juliana Hu Pegues

Not upon, over, at, or near, rape is not adjacent to anything. It is the thing.

Catalina Ouyang Catalina Ouyang. crisis management (filling the space with syllables waiting for something to pass), 2019

soapstone, plaster, symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast, abandoned chair, steel rebar, weaver’s cloth 58 x 16.5 x 16 inches

from marrow.

The Preferred Terms are Mine by Gowri Koneswaran

This body is more than epilogue / This body is cartography

Catalina Ouyang Catalina Ouyang. Untitled, 2018

dehydrated lotus root, binder rings, saran wrap, resin, fluorescent lights, takeout containers, epoxy clay, ginger, water, lilies, olive oil, beeswax, cotton twine 
dimensions variable

from blood in D minor

A Letter to a Thousand Other Mothers by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen

Sometimes I’m mad at you for never teaching me how to get away.
Sometimes I’m mad at myself for opening a door I could not close.

Catalina Ouyang Catalina Ouyang. Font III and Font IV

These two sculptural works are part of a series of “fonts,” or holy water basins, I began in 2016. Each “font” features a piece of hand-carved soapstone with a hollow carved into it, inside of which rests a raw egg that has had its shell eaten away by white vinegar. The egg is left as a wet, translucent, squishy bulb; I am thinking here about porosity and vulnerability. How the nourishing liquid inside of the egg takes the place of the sacred water of the font. 

To My 21-Year-Old Self by Thaomi Michelle Dinh, illustrated by Bryan Dan Trinh

Even though you didn’t say “no” in what you’ve been told is the “right” way to say no, you were saying no.

Catalina Ouyang Catalina Ouyang. Exhibition view from “it has always been the perfect instrument,” 2020

2-channel video, full text archive of [Conclusion and Findings] (2017—) as of January 2020, 2 flatscreen video monitors, abandoned chaise lounges, steel, plaster, burlap, Celluclay
dimensions variable, 4 hour loop

from it has always been the perfect instrument

Dumb Luck by Christine Kitano

Through the radio speakers / I hear a woman shivering. I think of my friend, newly pregnant, / also on her way to work, how she’ll twist a ring off her swollen finger.

Catalina Ouyang Catalina Ouyang. DEATH DRIVE JOY RIDE, 2018, exhibition view

The work drew connections between Ouyang’s research and writing on Chinese fox spirits, Medusa, diaspora, hybridity, mobility, girlhood, ancestral ghosts, and the American dream; she was exploring modes of finding/building community in myth-making and fantasy against a backdrop of late capitalism and ecological disaster. A central installation featured a found truck camper shell repurposed as a table, covered with ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine.

from DEATH DRIVE JOY RIDE

Library of Lost Poetry Machines by Margaret Rhee

She, like the others, could only slightly feel the edge of some thoughts, and some memories. It was better that way, they all agreed.

Catalina Ouyang Catalina Ouyang. cunt waifu, 2020, exhibition view at Lyles & King, NYC

“In repeatedly trying to write the meaning(s) of violence
and how gender is incommensurately inscribed upon structures of power
the scene of unprecedented collective violence
Hair soaked in glue
grief is articulated through the body, for instance, by infliction of grievous hurt on oneself,
‘objectifying’ and making present the inner state”

from cunt waifu