MiMi | Ed. Peter Traynor | 10 March 2022
What comes to your mind when you think about Oriental women? Are they smiley discreet yellow faces, are they K-pop chic or cynical like in the Squid Game series?
3D artist, Leah Roh presents her very personal Agora residency project called X-pop, an ironic VR exhibition reflecting on identity and the others’ gaze that defines someone’s perceived identity. Leah explores the East-Asian archetypes derived from Pop culture and Hollywood’s mis/representation.
This gamified VR museum takes place in a European-style building covered by cute Kawaii-field accessories. The museum is a majestic place of validation but also a Hollywood monument to acknowledge the forgotten Asian-Americans who have long laboured in Hollywood, behind and on the screen, and yet remain largely unnoticed. Come and visit this richly decorated gallery of portraits, a fancy Walk of Fame, abundant fountains and treats for the eyes.
The museum exhibits dioramas that feature recreated CGI scenes from films like Sixteen Candles, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Aristocats. Each diorama spotlights East-Asian characters such as Long Duk Dong and Mr Yunioshi, accompanied with a plaque transcribing the scene like “Hey Howard, there’s your Chinaman” and “Shanghai Hong Kong Egg Foo Yung Fortune Cookie Always Wrong” with an interactive button that plays the scene.
Behind the glitter and the kitsch, the project also underlines the covert and overt racism, micro-aggression and otherness that has informed and still informs many representations of Asian people. For this reason, the X represents a cross, a symbol of deletion and exclusion. As a daughter of Korean immigrants, Leah Roh grew up in Hollywood where she had no anchor points to represent her internally and externally.
How difficult is it to blend in, when citizens are referred to as foreigners in their home country but also alienated in their country of origin? In psychology, the second generation of immigrants is described as the Torn Generation. Those natives are struggling between their country’s social values and their familial cultural heritage. The inbetweeners who are constantly reminded that they don’t look Caucasian and in their family country who are labelled as bananas or coconuts, references about people of colour but white inside.
More than a rant against colonial supremacy or Caucasian ignorance, X-pop is a vibrant yet humorous call to openness and acceptance; placing the visitor in someone else’s skin.