Subversive Artist Mixes Fun and Humor With Political Activism
As an undergraduate, Kristina Sheryl Wong created a Web site as a mock porn site that features words such as ‘demure lotus blossoms,’ ‘geishas’ and ‘oriental sluts,’ to convey the stereotypes against Asian women.
Now a writer, activist, solo artist, feminist, filmmaker and performer, Wong spoke to Professor Glen Masato Mimura’s ‘Asian-Americans and Popular Culture’ class on Feb. 7 about the methods of nontraditional activism and the role that the technique of performance takes in challenging societally imposed stereotypes.
‘I was interested in sharing my work with [the class, with hopes] that they would find it engaging and compelling and give them new ideas for how to look at what a performance is,’ Wong said. ‘As someone who does ‘street performance’ and ‘performance installations,’ I wanted to get them to think about other performances we never consider. I want them to think about what it is they stand for and ways to fight for social justice in ways that are subversive and fun.’
Wong has utilized various resources such as Web sites, public performances, documentaries, publications and lectures to reach various audiences. Through her work, she addresses issues that deal with family, sexuality, failure and pride.
With her experience as a former KFPK radio reporter and past Artistic Director of the Asian- American Teen Theater Company, Wong will premiere her third show, ‘Wong Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ in Berkeley. The show will be about mental illnesses among Asian-American women.
‘Kristina’s work gives the students a good sense of how art can speak directly and intimately to their own experiences,’ Mimura said. ‘I want [the students] to understand how culture and politics, entertainment and activism, and having fun and making a serious statement are not mutually exclusive. Kristina’s work nicely shows how these things can be brought together in interesting, creative and positive ways. I want the students to understand that they, too, are capable of meaningful, important and self-enriching work.’
During the presentation, Wong showed her first short documentary to the class, ‘Beat the Bus,’ which focuses on a man named Larry who runs to beat a bus that bypasses him in order to raise money for his impending debt. The 2003 documentary premiered in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where Wong grew up.
In addition, she showed short clips from her other solo performances and public activities. In one clip, she poses as Miss Chinatown second runner-up Fannie Wong in order to demonstrate what society considers beautiful and how people choose icons. In other clips Wong creates an Asian sorority named Kero Kero Pil and performs a hip-hop dance in which she must first adhere to a checklist of stereotypes before performing the actual dance. Wong closed the discussion with a clip in which she poses as a member of the group Billionaires for Bush with other billionaires who held signs such as ‘no justice, no problem’ or ‘leave no billionaire behind.’
Wong contrasted her performances with those of the activist group, the Yes Men, in order to introduce the concept of guerilla theater to the class. In the clip she screened, the Yes Men pose as World Trade Organization and McDonald’s representatives who speak to an appalled college class about their efforts to create a system that uses purified American human endocrine waste to make hamburgers for people in third-world countries.
‘I hope I challenged [the students] to rethink the communities they live in and how they have a stake in changing what they don’t see as just,’ Wong said. ‘I want them to ask [themselves] how spaces like the Internet and the various rituals of our cultural life, like beauty pageants, sorority culture, the media and Internet, and getting out of debt, can be co-opted into transformative experiences’
Students found the presentation insightful on the cultural identity struggle of Asian-Americans.
‘I felt like I could relate to the guest speaker, because I had personal experiences that I dealt with that were similar to hers, like not knowing where to fit in,’ said Sylvia Kim, a second-year international studies major. ‘I liked her for not staying within the boundaries of an Asian-American woman.’
Eric Nelson, a third-year psychology and social behavior and anthropology double major, liked Wong’s different perspective.
‘I really enjoyed her speech [and] felt it was very refreshing,’ Nelson said. ‘It looks like she’s having a lot of fun with the work she does [and] she has an effective way of delivering her message.’