diaCRITICS highlights Vietnamese and Southeast Asian artists and writers of thediaspora. In this Part 2 of our two-part artist profile of Cambodian-born artist Anida Yoeu Ali, she talks with diaCRITICS editor Dao Strom about what it means to work in the hybrid, transnational, diasporic space. Read about Ali’s project, The Buddhist Bug, in Part 1 of our profile.
I met Anida Yoeu Ali for the first time in San Francisco in 2016, at a mutual friend and colleague’s house. Photographs from both her Buddhist Bug and Red Chador series were part of a group exhibit, Love In the Time of War, at SF Camerawork (being presented in partnership with DVAN). In connection to the exhibit, I soon learned, Ali was also going to perform her Red Chador project impromptu–guerilla-style–on the streets in front of the SF City Hall and inside the Asian Art Museum. Not quite knowing what to expect and having time on my hands, I took a bus downtown and waited on the art museum steps looking out for the Red Chador to make her appearance. Soon, I saw her approach, a billowing red figure, with the ripples of her skirts flowing, pooling, in her wake.
The Red Chador is, in short, a fabulous, red-sequined garment. It is the undeniable opposite of invisible, or discreet, or suppressed, a paradoxical garment in that it states bold presence at the same time it completely veils the face and body of its wearer, the Muslim-Khmer-Cambodian artist inside who is using fabric and inhabitation–embodied performance–to subvert expectations, all the while not speaking as she walks about, turning heads, striking a lone and emboldened figure. I was struck by the sheer color of this performance, the audacity of the sparkling red against the city’s blues and grays, and the enervating sense it created, to see this mythopoetic figure take embodied form in a real, unstaged setting. The performance was fleeting, visual, and one had to follow it in order to see it through – it did not stay in any one spot for long.
There is much more to the story of the Red Chador and Anida’s journey with that character than we have space for here today, but I glimpsed a snippet of her journey that day and learned something about how an artist must carry and protect her creations–the ghosts, incarnations, alter egos that enter and inhabit our ever-shifting diasporic bodies. To be able to imagine anew a mythical, or myth-suggestive, figure, to draw fabrics and shapes out of old cosmologies into the now, to re-fashion them with playfulness and verve (and, in the case of the Red Chador, in decidedly feminine form), all of this certainly resonated with me. I followed her from City Hall into the museum, watching as she chose to commune with some objects and people, and not others. –DS