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Yellow Peril: Imagining East Asian futures in the West

Written by David Ng and Jen Sungshine
Poem written by Maiden China
Photos and videos courtesy of David Ng and Jen Sungshine
November 2020

Maiden China, from the video Yellow Peril: Wood

This past February, Love Intersections launched our debut visual arts exhibit, Yellow Peril; The Celestial Elements, at SUM Gallery — Canada’s only gallery with a queer mandate, located in Vancouver’s Chinatown. As queer East Asian artists, the show was a platform for us to imagine a future where our cultures could flourish. The installation of four artworks —Channelling the Elements: an encounter of time/space, The Wall of Healing: a ‘Race’ Towards a Cosmic Future, Celestial Figurations, Audrey 1 (PJÄTTERYD) and Audrey 2 (PJÄTTERYD)— was a celebration of our identities, paying homage to our cultural traditions and bringing our ancestors into the present.

None of us could have imagined the future that was to come less than a month later — and how the global pandemic would abruptly and violently alter the paths of our diasporic communities. Blaming us for the virus, anti-Asian hate crimes began spiking in and around the gallery as xenophobia and racism ran rampant. Things were looking dark.

The gallery was forced to close in mid-March when Phase 1 quarantine measures were put in place. We quickly adapted by concluding our exhibit with an online panel, Queerantine in Covid-19: Responding to the Yellow Peril Mutation. Alongside exhibition artists Kendell Yan, Jay Cabalu and Paul Wong, we discussed how the concept of the Yellow Peril has culturally mutated and how anti-Asian racism has always been present, in spite of diversity and inclusion discourse surrounding Canadian multiculturalism.

We also further explored how we can use art to imagine a future for the diaspora, particularly in the light of a post-coronavirus world. While this period has exacerbated anxiety and aggression, it has also energized action. Since the pandemic began, the world has finally been forced to reckon with the international movement for Black Lives, and the tireless work Indigenous land defenders, on and beyond Turtle Island, have and continue to do.

The future we are envisioning must be seen through the kaleidoscopic lens of intersectionality. Now is the time for our communities to come together — even when we must be physically apart. With optimism today for a better tomorrow, there is light ahead.

What we have learned through the pandemic is that we are at the precipice of change, and that the perilous nature of a single virus was/is a kind of primer for the global uprising we are currently experiencing. Everything can change because everything has already changed — and while we continue to struggle against the systems that oppress us, we have the ability to regain a collective agency and autonomy. What was once deemed perilous to the machinations that uphold our broken world could in fact be a path towards revolution and the themes from Yellow Peril; The Celestial Elements might be a part of that utopian imagination.

untitled self portrait

by Maiden China

I am watching my father's hands
He slams a mahjong tile and it cracks     like a chicken bone kissing the rickety table
Keefer Street is hotandnoisy
Memorial Plaza simmers         a clamour of shuffling
Aunties Uncles Youths
exclaiming in Toisan, in Cantonese, in English
and I remember myself
Sweat slips and sticks over the wet backsides of my knees and
I wish I were wearing a skirt
In this foster body    this borrowed illusion, I am learning flesh
I am descended of the richness of sweet red bean paste
I am the fragrance of salted fish and green onion
I am the softness and warmth of cha siu bao
And still
I have not yet inherited my body from my ancestors

I am growing my hair to be long like Ngin Ngin’s
Hungry ghosts gnaw at the knots        leaving a clean edge to weave my body forward
Each strand an offering, every struggle a tribute
In honour of my inheritance         I erect forty one shrines East of the Millennium Gate
Vinyl portraits peel from concrete    cling to glass    climb eagerly over plywood
palms spread over graffiti     over opioid scripture,
Lips curled teeth grating fingers twist and thrust into acrid sidewalks
gnarled roots rip through asphalt, yearn for moonlight,
I am plastered, tongueless, limp,
languishing in the quiet heat on Pender Street and...
I wish I could slip life inside myself    
I am the mud nourishing the pregnant lotus
I am the yellow skin that falls from white pears,
from my brown arms,
I am my father's hands,     and still
I have not yet inherited my body from my ancestors
But I would like to,

David Ng and Jen Sungshine are the co-founders of Love Intersections Society, a Vancouver-based media arts collective of queer artists of colour, with a mandate to share the stories of marginalized QTIBIPOC people in their community.

Maiden China is an intersectional feminist drag artist living and working on the unceded, ancestral territories of the Coast Salish people. They are a member of the House of Rice, an all Asian drag house, as well as a member of the Darlings, a multidisciplinary, non-binary drag performance collective.





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