The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

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JUL-AUG 2022 Issue
Critics Page In Conversation

Alice Tuan and Kristina Wong

What Alice Tuan and Kristina Wong Want From Asian American Art

Alice Tuan: Well the thing is, Wong, you're doing it! Your show, Kristina Wong: Sweatshop Overlord, basically makes huge space and shows how the Auntie Sewing Squad got mobilized to make 350,000 masks—it called a lot of attention, helped our country, and made a national community of folks that are bonded forever—that's what we want!

Kristina Wong: The thing is the “we” is not universal but there are some basic things we can agree on: we don't want to get beat up taking the subway, we don't want to be turned down for a promotion because we're not seen as leaders. I've definitely seen artists go through that phase where, as Asian American artists: “I don't want to talk about race, I just wanna tell stories.” Unfortunately, we have to understand how to talk about that because … that lens is there … and whether you like it or not, this is a show about race … it's there, it's there … have to be aware and understand it. But sometimes I feel like we're so aware of it, it makes us very self-conscious artists.

Tuan: Seeing Everything Everywhere All at Once: that was an intense Asian American space—

Wong: It was and yet it wasn't, right? Like it had the markers but it didn't … it was a family drama, it was a coming out story, a sci-fi thriller but also—

Tuan: A post-modern film about liberation—

Wong: Yeah, and it was also about possibility … you show up to a country and a million things can happen … but for the most part, you just end up working in the laundry—

Tuan: The cosmos got a little bit more defined—all those universes out there with all those different selves of you …

Wong: I love all the references to other movies, right? That's what's so brilliant too...all these iconic movies where we've remembered Asian faces—

Tuan: The indexing of all her images/beings, and those fragmented frames that had two worlds—her unstable being, half in the janitor closet, half in the tax office … like we visually got to see what it feels see all of our identities all in one work … I mean that's why it was SO BIG—THAT'S WHAT WE WANT—WE WANT MORE OF THAT!

Wong: I want a deeper dialogue. I feel like in California I have gotten to witness really weird work by Asian American artists that don't play on YouTube, don't play out in East West Players seasons, that's what I want for the world. For me there are so many underread poets, unseen visual artists who do things, presenting interesting ideas … feel like the more we participate in live culture, in live art culture … I'm not big on screaming at networks to represent us, because it's still a commercial medium … while it will do a lot to see yourself on tv—it is … I mean white people are not realistic on tv either.

Tuan: Tressie McMillan Cottom has one of the best lines ever about why we're kept small.

Wong: Why?

Tuan: “How well I do is how well people can imagine me.” We have imagined ourselves really big but how other people, what their limits are in seeing us … it comes down to … how do you unlock other people to receive you, so they can allow the bigger version, the weirder version, the everything version of you to be seen, heard, felt, inhaled, liberated?


Kristina Wong

Kristina Wong and Alice Tuan are the Statler and Waldorf of Asian American Theater.

Alice Tuan

Alice Tuan and Kristina Wong are the Statler and Waldorf of Asian American Theater.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

All Issues