The Art Gallery Where Christina Yuna Lee Worked Pays Tribute to Her Life and Legacy

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Two months after Christina Yuna Lee was brutally killed in her Chinatown apartment in New York, her family and friends are finding new ways to honor her life.
The latest comes in the form of an exhibition at the Eli Klein Gallery in Manhattan – where Lee once worked ten years ago – which opens in his honor. It features the work of nine Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists and includes an original piece by Lee herself. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Christina Yuna Lee Memorial Fund, which supports causes important to her.

“Art was a big part of his life, and I wanted to commemorate his legacy as much as possible,” said contemporary art gallery founder Eli Klein, who worked with Lee. from 2010 to 2014.

“He is someone who deserves to be remembered in a larger context than just this tragedy.”

Working with Eli Klein Gallery, Christina Yuna Lee manages a sculpture by Chinese artist Li Hongbo in 2013. She worked as an associate director at the gallery. Credit: Courtesy of Phil Cai/Eli Klein Gallery

Late one night in February, Lee had driven a car back to her apartment, where a man had forced his way inside and fatally stabbed her dozens of times. Although police have yet to determine if the killing was racially motivated, the death nonetheless shocked the AAPI community – which was already reeling from the spate of violent crimes against Asian women.
For program curator stephanie mei huang, who lives less than a mile from where the 35-year-old was killed, it was important to create a dedicated space to process those feelings. Seeing Lee’s memorial vandalized just days after his death left huang, who uses the pronouns them and them, without a safe space to grieve.

“I really felt like I couldn’t go on with my life unless I did something about his death,” they said.

Some of the powerful works in the exhibition address themes of tragedy and violence.

Haena Yoo’s “I went to look for America” ​​series, for example, features origami guns made from soy sauce-stained newspaper clippings detailing violence against Asian Americans. Featuring titles such as “8 Deaths in Atlanta Spa Filming Over Anti-Asian Bias Fears” and “The Cost of Being an ‘Interchangeable Asian,'” the works are a commentary on gun violence in United States which also commemorates the shooting of a spa in Atlanta. victims.
"I went to get America (Gun 1)" (2021) by Haena Yoo.

“I Went To Get America (Gun 1)” (2021) by Haena Yoo. Credit: Courtesy of David Lah/Phil Cai/Eli Klein Gallery

Six prints by Hồng-Ân Trương, meanwhile, speak of the hypersexualization of Asian women during American military operations in Asia. Sifting through archival footage filmed by American and Australian soldiers in Vietnam in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Trương finds the moments when soldiers’ gazes are fixed on Vietnamese women and creates still images. The work is personal – his mother would have been in her late teens and early twenties at the time. But by dissociating the images from the context in which they were filmed, Trương attempts to give unnamed women a chance for autonomy and new possibilities.

Coin of Hồng-Ân Trương, "00:04:48:08" (2017).

Play by Hồng-Ân Trương, “00:04:48:08” (2017). Credit: Hong-An Truong/Phil Cai/Eli Klein Gallery

The title of the exhibition, “with his voice, penetrates the soil of the earth”, also reflects the deep sense of mourning that pervades the entire space. It comes from “Dictation”, the magnum opus of the late Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. In November 1982, just two months after the publication of her book, Cha was raped and murdered at the age of 31.

As visitors wander through the exhibit, they eventually come across a painting by Lee, depicting the Chinese cigarette brand Golden Bridge, detailed with gold leaf. She had done the work for Klein around the time she left the gallery, a nod to her boss’ old smoking habit and the Chinese practice of offering cigarettes. as a sign of respect. Beneath the painting, performing artists placed objects in an altar for Lee.

"Golden Bridge for Eli Klein" (2014) by Christina Yuna Lee.

“Golden Bridge for Eli Klein” (2014) by Christina Yuna Lee. Credit: Christina Yuna Lee/Phil Cai/Eli Klein Gallery

An altar of offerings is placed under Lee's painting.

An altar of offerings is placed under Lee’s painting. Credit: Courtesy of Phil Cai/Eli Klein Gallery

huang, who works as an interdisciplinary artist, created replicas of Chinese Daqianmen cigarettes – a brand that was also their grandfather’s favorite – in incense paper for the altar. Joss papers, also known as ghost money, are thin sheets burned as offerings to ancestors in China and other Asian countries.

“Asians are expected to tone down their emotions in this country and be perceived as pleasant,” said Huang, who chooses to lowercase his name to keep the focus on art. “Being nice all the time means you can’t grieve all the time. And I think that’s resulted in a lot of unprocessed grief. Remembering to go back to the grieving processes that our ancestors engaged in feels good. right now.”

Christina Yuna Lee.

Christina Yuna Lee. Credit: Courtesy of Phil Cai/Eli Klein Gallery

Despite the sense of loss and tragedy that continues to haunt Asian Americans, the show is also meant to celebrate Lee — her life and the power she embodies in death. His voice continues to resonate in the AAPI’s anti-hate movement, and Huang said they hope other members of the community can find strength as well.

“The only people who can really help us are ourselves, and we need to talk about that,” Huang said. “As crippling as these events and crimes are, I wanted to channel the grief into something social rather than isolated.”

The exhibition “with his voice, penetrates the soil of the earth” is presented at the Eli Klein Gallery in New York until June 5.

Top image: A photo from Eli Klein Gallery’s ‘With His Voice, Penetrate the Soil of the Earth’ exhibition.

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