If you haven't heard about Khmer Muslim artist Anida Yoeu Ali, listen up. The Cambodian-born, Chicago-raised woman is an interdisciplinary artist; she describes herself as a "performance artist, writer, and global agitator." Ali's work explores issues related to identity, particularly hybridity and transnationality. She recently completed an MFA in Performance at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As part of her work there, she put together a multi-faceted installation called The 1700% Project--the title of which refers to the post-September 11 increase in hate crimes against people perceived to be Arab or Muslim in the US.
The 1700% Project is collaborative, and consists of a poem, a video (below), audio recording, performances, and installation. In June, the video The 1700% Project: Mistaken for Muslim, which was directed, edited, and shot by Ali's husband Masahiro Sugano, won the $25,000 grand prize in the One Chicago, One Nation Online Video Contest. It also won the $5,000 prize in the music video/spoken word/animation category.
The whole project is a powerful statement against racial profiling of Muslims and the crimes of hate and violence that accompany the practice. In May 2010, when she was first mounting the installation, Ali's own art became the subject of a hate crime. She returned five days after painting the installation to find that the work itself had been the target of racist vandals. It had been defaced with large caricatures and a dialogue balloon emphasizing a particular part of her text: the phrase "Kill all Arabs." Here are images of the work before and after the defacement.
Ali wrote on the 1700% blog about the traumatic experience of discovering and trying to deal with the defacement: Articulating the Assault. Ali really had no choice but to alter her intended project to incorporate the experience of being targeted by racists; to try, as she puts it, to turn an act of defacement into an act of defiance:
My original performance was going to entail a scheduled performance of the text followed by a public staining of the walls. The point of the “1700% Project: Otherance” has always been to make what is seemingly invisible more visible. However, based on this recent incident, I am responding by modifying the performance to include a facilitated dialogue with faculty, students, the public and the communities to which these acts of hate and bias crimes address. The “1700% Project: Otherance” is a politically charged art installation that cannot be silenced and disrupted in this manner. During Saturday’s performance I am asking for the public to join me in the staining process — to transform the marks of vandalism and hate into acts of collective healing and reclamation. This is a call to action to respond as a community within and beyond the borders of SAIC. This is not just an assault on me as an artist, this is an attack on multiple communities to which the work speaks for.
Take note, racist fools: Ali is not someone you can screw with. She is a force to be reckoned with. She is fierce.
Don't miss her correspondence with the administrators of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, about their apathy and indifference. Very disappointing "response" on their part. How gratifying that she went on to win the grand prize in that video contest.
Ali has other great things to check out: her personal blog, Atomic Shogun, which she's been keeping for five years, and where you can find out about past performances and artworks; and the spoken word CDs, books, and anthologies she's created or contributed to, which you can buy here. (I love the cover for I Was Born with Two Tongues.) Whatever you do, be sure to watch this video. And then watch it again: it deserves (and rewards) multiple viewings. I've already watched it about seven times, and it holds up. (You can find the poem/text of the video here.) Can't wait to see what she does next.