Resident: Leah Roh
Leah Roh, Xpop (2022) © Courtesy of the artist.
Project concept: X-pop
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.
VR Exhibition in Hubs Mozilla
Leah Roh, Lube River (2021) part of Carla Gannis wwwunderkammer © Courtesy of the artist.
Leah Roh, kawaii (2021) © Courtesy of the artist.
About the artist
Leah Roh (b. 1991 – USA) is a Brooklyn-based 3D artist and educator. She builds computer-generated experiences that explore the ways in which interactive technologies can bridge the gap between new media and pop culture. Through 3D animation and game engine software, Leah designs engaging experiences based on her personal relationship with overt and covert systemic racism and sexism as a Korean-American woman, stemming from the inequities in representation in mainstream media. Her practice examines how virtual mediums can cultivate accessible spaces for cultural engagement and be applied for experiential education and storytelling. She is a NEW INC alum and currently teaches Experiential Art at Pratt Institute’s New Media programme and 3D design at NYU’s Integrated Design Media programme.
I build interactive experiences that bridge the gap between new media and pop culture. “BROAD-LAND” which premiered at Pablo’s Birthday Gallery allowed users to explore a Malibu Barbie island reminiscent of my lived experience growing up in the 90s. “BROAD-LAND” featured relics from my childhood, My Little Ponies, Legos, and Game Boys that were reconstructed to blur the gender binary. “BROAD-LAND” is a virtual retrospect of our society’s sexist marketing practices in the toy and gaming industry. Through game engine software, I design interactive experiences based on my personal relationship with the inequities in representation in mainstream media.
At NEW INC, I built a VR experience titled “Lube River” that was designed to critique the ways in which mainstream media talks about sexuality and autonomy over Womxn’s bodies. Users are able to navigate a vu-gondola, exploring topics excluded from traditional sex education such as consent, masturbation, and sexual orientation/gender identity. Providing users with full control over their virtual avatars in an intimate and isolated 3D environment allowed for a safe and fun exploration of these topics that are frequently considered too “taboo”.
My previous work, “Digital Arrest” also examines the influence of virtual embodiment and autonomy over identity. “Digital Arrest,” which was developed for Columbia University’s School of Social Work, features the virtual avatar of Jarrell Daniels, a Columbia student who was wrongfully incarcerated for his social media presence. “Digital Arrest” allows users to embody his 3D avatar and relive the day he was arrested exploring how social media can be used as a tool for policing in the 21st Century.