for all of the many victories… - Leslie Condon
for all of the many victories…, 2020
Ribbon, paper, wood
“for all of the many victories..., an installation created for Thank You, No Thank You, reflects the continuously evolving ways I define myself as an Asian American. The work draws from the same materials used in the first piece of an in-progress series entitled, Hello, My Name Is... (first exhibited in Boston, Ma in 2010). This series was inspired by a single found object: a name tag with my full given name handwritten in blocky uppercase letters. I came upon it when looking among the records and papers that my foster parents had, somewhere in the process, discreetly handed off to my adoptive parents. It was the first time seeing my given name in full, and it carried with it the weight of language in a different tongue. I was named after a woman who helped my parents get to the United States once they had fled Laos; my birth family name is the only name that suggests, through language, my Southeast Asian heritage.
This second piece includes more complex visuals and use of materials. The wall installation hangs above the viewer with blue, white, and red grosgrain ribbon cascading towards the floor, the darker colors interspersed by intermittent dots of white. In the United States, the colors of red, white, and blue, when shown together, are a visual signifier of its national flag and the associated patriotism specific to the country. However, the national flag of Lao also utilizes these same colors: a red background intersected down the middle by a strip of blue and punctuated by a circle of white.
The wide pieces of blue and red ribbon in the installation are each five feet in length, matching the average length of the American flag. Each dot is a printed reproduction of the original name tag found in my adoption papers, except that I've individually marked up, erased, or generally defaced a number of the copies. The nametags hang along the edge or at the end of each ribbon, like the medals awarded to victorious athletes, or soldiers, and officers returning from war.
In creating this work, I wanted to draw parallels to competitive sports culture in the States and to U.S. foreign policy. The ways U.S. culture embraces binary structures (us/them, win/lose, war/peace, friend/enemy) allow civilians to physically and psychologically distance themselves from the use of militarized armed force abroad, in support of U.S. interests. Instead, they can tune into national news channels for short clips of roadside bombings, and attacks from insurgency, reducing the action to blood sport. From the perspective of countries that have been ravaged by our policies and military action, the U.S. has long left behind efforts to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick,’ if indeed it was ever followed.
By employing digitally replicated versions of my original name tag as the predominant "material" in this series, I aim to speak to my many cultural identities, and my complex relationship with each of them: Southeast Asian woman, adopted child...a U.S. born daughter of refugees who fled their home for the country that had recently covered their cities and towns with bombs. The many challenges immigrants and first-generation citizens navigate daily may be overshadowed by the basic struggle to be welcomed and accepted by a country so incredibly hostile towards outsiders and "others." We outsiders often feel pressure to conform to a supposed "American" ideal, or to embody two-dimensional tropes and stereotypes, flattening and erasing our individuality in the process. What victories are there for people like us, who must negate our authentic selves to survive?” -- Leslie Condon