Malaysian artist Red Hong Yi tackles racism with portraits made from food items


  • Arts
  • Wednesday, 22 Apr 2020

Red Hong Yi dedicates this work, made of fennel seeds, to Jonathan Mok, the Singaporean college student who was punched in the face in Oxford Street, London last month. 'I don’t want your Coronavirus in my country!' the attacker said before throwing Mok a punch. Photo: Red Hong Yi

The spate of anti-Asian sentiment and racist attacks stemming from ignorance about coronavirus have been making the news the world over – from a Singaporean student who was punched in London, a two-year-old Asian-American and her family in Texas, United States, who were stabbed, and another Singaporean student and friend hurt in a racist attack in Melbourne.

Such assaults against Asians are becoming frighteningly regular. Then you have a long list surrounding racial intimidation and blatant (or casual) xenophobia.

Take the recent news of an Asian-Australian family targeted by racist vandals who spray-painted offensive graffiti on their garage door in Melbourne right to Canadian sports brand Lululemon issuing an apology after being criticised for a "bat fried rice" T-shirt design uploaded by one of its then-employees on his Instagram page.

These are just some of the many daily racist incidents on our news channels even as the world struggles to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

'This one’s for the 51-year-old woman who was attacked and hit by an umbrella by three teenage girls at the Bronx. One of them yelled, 'You caused the Coronavirus!' The girls were arrested and charged. Just like how we have to act early to fight the spread of the virus, we must act early to fight the racism before it spreads further,' says Red Hong Yi. This work is made of crushed eggshells. Photo: Red Hong Yi'This one’s for the 51-year-old woman who was attacked and hit by an umbrella by three teenage girls at the Bronx. One of them yelled, 'You caused the Coronavirus!' The girls were arrested and charged. Just like how we have to act early to fight the spread of the virus, we must act early to fight the racism before it spreads further,' says Red Hong Yi. This work is made of crushed eggshells. Photo: Red Hong Yi

Local artist Red Hong Yi, who goes by the moniker Red, is speaking up through a new series of portraits titled I Am Not A Virus.

“It is from a hashtag on Twitter that started in France, #Jenesuispasunvirus, to push back against racist incidents related to coronavirus. Asians have been punched in the face, spat on, yelled at and turned away just based on their ethnicities. In my series, I highlight the stories of these people, ” she says.

Red describes such incidents as worrying and sad, pointing out that it has certainly not helped when world leaders used racial slurs against a certain group of people when the world is panicking and scared about the virus situation.

“That just divides and creates even more fear. I want to believe that most people are kind and understanding, and that racism exists in the minority. I have an international following and thought I could use my platform to speak out against this, ” says the artist, who hails from Kota Kinabalu.

Red's portrait of the two-year-old girl who was stabbed by a man who attempted to murder three Asian-American family members, thinking the family was Chinese and could infect people with the virus. This cake sprinkles piece is part of her 'I Am Not A Virus' series. Photo: Red Hong YiRed's portrait of the two-year-old girl who was stabbed by a man who attempted to murder three Asian-American family members, thinking the family was Chinese and could infect people with the virus. This cake sprinkles piece is part of her 'I Am Not A Virus' series. Photo: Red Hong Yi

Racism exists everywhere, in every skin colour, every country, every culture, she adds.

“I want us to be aware of that and make the conscious decision to stop it and to speak up against it. Even if the virus started with the handful of Chinese people, even if 9-11 was caused by a handful of religious extremists, and even if the landlords of an apartment here had some bad experiences with African tenants – it does not justify taking it out on the rest of the people who are just trying to live their lives, just because they are of the same ethnicity. We need to learn to respect, understand, love and care for each other moving forward, ” she says.

Red, a trained architect, first shot to fame for her large-scale portrait of basketball player Yao Ming which she painted using a basketball dipped in red paint in 2012.

Known for her use of unusual media, the ongoing I Am Not A Virus is created in the same spirit, with pieces made from items you can find in your pantry.

This artwork, made of black/purple rice, is dedicated to the 16-year-old Los Angeles student who was physically attacked in his middle school and accused of having the virus because of his ethnicity. Photo: Red Hong YiThis artwork, made of black/purple rice, is dedicated to the 16-year-old Los Angeles student who was physically attacked in his middle school and accused of having the virus because of his ethnicity. Photo: Red Hong Yi

“Since we are all staying home now, I thought about using objects I could find at home. These are just some of the objects I have found, so it gives people a glimpse into what I consume, ” she says of the tea leaves, salt, coffee powder, rice, cake sprinkles, fennel seeds, goji berries and eggshells used in her artworks in this series so far.

Red, who is at home in Kota Kinabalu now, was supposed to move to the United States this month, but her plans are currently up in the air thanks to the pandemic. However, she remains hopeful about her upcoming solo exhibition, her first ever, that is slated to be shown in Los Angeles, California, or New York City – or both – at the end of the year.

“It is a series called Future Relics, featuring 10 pieces of Chinese vases made of eggshells, about femininity through an Asian lens. There will be an interactive augmented reality feature for each of them, so my artworks will 'come to life'. I am super excited about it but with the current situation, it might have to be pushed back – I am not sure yet. We will see!” she shares.

Check out her I Am Not A Virus series on Facebook or Instagram: Redhongyi, or visit www.redhongyi.com.

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red hong yi , red , coronavirus , covid-19 , racism , art

   

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