Critics Page In Conversation
Vivian L. Huang with Mei Kazama
Vivian L. Huang: Spaces for collective grief are precious for minority communities, including for Asian Americans who must bear histories and memories that are often publicly repudiated. Recurring themes in your work include ghosts, loss, and grief, which often exist in realms deemed private. How does your work think about these themes in relation to power? What is our responsibility to ghosts who might operate where invisibility is essential?
Mei Kazama: There’s invisible power in relationships to the spiritual and ghosts, to the in-between that exists. There’s also violence and vulnerability with in/visibility, and I seek spaces where I can relate to affect without reproducing systems of violence. I pull a lot from my experiences with ohaka mairi, which refers to Japanese grave visit rituals. In Japan, people are traditionally laid to rest under a single family grave centering patriarchal lineage, which can invisibilize many histories. In this piece, Seeking You, Seeking Me, I was thinking about how to communicate with my great grandmother in ways that don’t neglect hidden histories and also hold them with care. How can I, as a queer and second generation Asian American, communicate through traditional, gendered ways of honoring my ancestors? How can I reroute cycles of return across time and distance? By collaging and collapsing past, present, and future through 2D, I create portals that visualize spaces of simultaneous grief and possibility.
Huang: It sounds like the process of creating these drawings is a form of honoring and building a queer diasporic genealogy. There's something ludic about your drawings, but also emotional from the motif of water droplets. Would you tell me about this theme of water, of trickle or flow?
Kazama: I think a lot about water while negotiating emotional access within distance. There’s the water used to cleanse during ohaka mairi rituals, the difficulties of physical distance created by oceans but also the possibilities of the vastness of oceans, the constant movement of coming and going of bodies of water…water becomes an infinite way of return. Finding new pathways through the repetition of coming back is something I hold close in my practice.