Recently I was asked where do I fit in the contemporary art world and how do I contribute to it. These questions threw me off my chair immediately and I was scratching my head nonstop as I tried to think of answers. I don’t even remember what I said anymore and I might have spewed out some verbal garbage about using my photography as a way to discuss issues pertaining to Asian American ethnography and family politics. Add in a lot of “um(s)” and “uhh(s)” into the mix and I probably said something super water-downed.
This is the difference between getting a BFA versus a MFA. During the four years as an undergrad, all you are focused on is making work, experimenting, succeeding, failing, and by the fourth year, you’ll be lucky to realize what you want to do for the future. Professors guide you through trials and tribulations about experimenting and do not expect you to think about where you fit into contemporary art history. Hell, who are you to even think you can make it into a history book? You just need to work and be selfish. Just think and do your work. Figure out how you contribute to art later.
After a few years of sending jpgs and prints over and over again to competitions and contests, it hit me early on that photography is not all about me, it’s also about the person viewing the work. How do I match up with others? What am I lacking? But I’ve struggled and still struggle to find out how to my work fits into photography history. Sometimes it’s easy to ride the Chinese art wave but this is so one-dimensional and I hate it.
Like a confused teenager going through puberty, it’s always been about how and where do I fit in. When am I obviously Chinese, when am I uniquely American, female, young, old, smart, naive, successful, not up to par, etc. When I enter contests or competitions and have other Asian American work against mine, are we too similar? Is there only space for one? Talk about insecurities, huh?
I have a long way to go and doubt always cross my mind. My competitive nature keeps me grounded and I hope these questions of fitting in don’t stop. I believe the day I figure it out is the day I stop questioning. I’m sure I have other open-ended, head-scratching questions ahead of me in the near future so I should keep this post in mind and not stumble into the pitfalls of verbal garbage.