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