Tommy Kha’s Haunting Portrait of America’s Asian Diaspora
“My work is about how a lot the panorama has been unkind to immigrants,” says Tommy Kha of his newest picture venture, which captures the Asian diaspora in America with a surreal edge
In June 1875, police raided Edouard Buguet’s studio on Boulevard Montmartre in Paris. The photographer was on trial for fraud. Claiming to be entranced by spirits, Buguet shot portraits of the residing that would seemingly seize the visiting ghosts of the lifeless. “My kids, like myself, thought the likeness good,” one sitter testified. “They cried, ‘It’s mamma!’” However Buguet confessed to double-exposing his plates with photographs of dummies or studio assistants dressed up in costume to resemble whoever the shopper wished to see. In his studio, there have been false beards, shrouds, two life-sized mannequins, and 300 faces glued onto card.
It’s the cut-out ghost of spirit pictures that haunts Tommy Kha’s portraits in Ghost Bites, his new solo exhibition at Baxter St on the Digital camera Membership of New York. However the ghost is himself. It’s there within the room along with his mom, partly hid by a curtain. Or it’s positioned like a masks on the face of his grandmother, mendacity flat in a sheet like a shroud. “I’m within the time when spirit pictures was a very massive a part of public consumption,” Kha tells AnOther. “Images is about haunting. It’s about how a lot of the previous nonetheless performs out in our modern panorama.”
In 1983, Kha’s mom fled Vietnam within the evening. His grandmother, who later would be a part of her, had sewed cash into the waistband of her garments. “That act actually units the tone of how I think about my work,” Kha says in his accompanying monograph Half, Full, Quarter, revealed by Aperture and the 7G Basis. “I’m weaving tales. I’m mapping these items of the Asian diaspora.” Introduced up by these girls in Memphis, Tennessee, Kha goals to attract out the “darker elements of the American self”. “My work is about how a lot the panorama has been unkind to immigrants,” he explains. “It’s about exorcising my household’s previous.”
But for Kha, his portraits of household are “half self-portraits”: “I inform their tales to determine my very own,” he explains. “It’s very a lot, ‘How do I arrive at my very own illustration?’” This entails breaking down western misconceptions of the Asian diaspora and its imagery. “Western concepts of the east have created a fiction,” says Kha, “and you’ll’t separate that from the western invention of the digicam itself. A variety of the methods pictures was launched to the east was via colonial exploitation. As quickly because the Europeans arrived, they introduced the digicam with them.”
Like Biguet’s ghosts, Kha’s queer Asian physique – photographed within the American south – is “by no means a part of the scene,” he explains. “It’s not presupposed to be there. I consider the south, and our identities, as one thing to be erased and rewritten again and again and over. Our selves are actually simply performative characters. It’s meant to be unfixed. In order a lot as I take into consideration pictures as haunting, being possessed by the previous, it’s additionally an exorcism as properly. Making an attempt to create one thing new. That’s what the exhibition is about: each a haunting and a form of exorcism.”
Ghost Bites by Tommy Kha is on present at Baxter St in New York till 22 March 2023. Half, Full, Quarter by Tommy Kha is revealed by Aperture and is out now.