Katherine Yaochen Du
The archive has nothing to tell me, but I am listening anyway. My practice is guided by a driving question: through what ethics could I reanimate the dignity of those who, according to history as written, do not exist?
My work begins at the footnote - a passing mention of Jack London's lesser known short stories, in which he gleefully imagines the genocide of the Chinese population through Western cooperation; a paragraph on how four hundred Chinese men revolt aboard a ship after discovering they are not bound for California, but for Peru; a specious statistic that says almost half the Chinese indentured laborers in the guano mines in Peru die by suicide. Footnotes bear the indelible marks of archival violence: the only names and identities that remain in them are of the oppressor. Tactically deploying visual formats that evoke history painting, murals, print media, cycloramas, comics, and Chinese scroll painting, I work to give visual and narrative specificity to these "lost" stories. Though my process begins with the factuality of the archive, it must depart from it, in service of storytelling. Saidiya Hartman's notion of critical fabulation guides me, as I grapple with the her provocation: "is it possible to exceed or negotiate the constitutive limits of the archive?" History becomes inflected with shades of my subjectivity and positionality as I invite the viewer into the theater of redacted history.