Kenneth Tam: The Crossing

When 30 Oct 2020 - 6 Dec 2020
Where The Kitchen
512 West 19th Street
New York, NY 10011
United States

In Residence at Queenslab: October 30–December 6

Live Performance Streaming Times: December 5–6, 7pm EST (RSVP required: click here to register)

Known for his video works that examine performative masculinity, artist Kenneth Tam will be in residence through The Kitchen at Queenslab from October 30 through December 6. During this period, Tam will develop and present his first live performance. Over the course of the residency’s first few weeks, the artist will share materials related to his research and artistic process online; and, in the final week, the project will culminate with two livestreams of Tam’s performance on December 5 and 6 at 7pm EST. The performance on December 6 will be followed by a conversation between Tam and curator Lumi Tan.

In this new performance, The Crossing, the artist trains his lens onto the rituals of Asian American fraternities, inquiring into the ways they create belonging and identity while also adopting practices that undermine these very bonds. For Tam, these organizations offer a way for young men to negotiate the pressures of assimilation while constructing normative identities based on race and gender. These forces find symbolic urgency in the elaborate ceremonies staged by these young men, and such rites of initiation suggest the power performance has in maintaining dominant social structures and hierarchies.

Asian American fraternities were founded in part to educate their members about historic Asian oppression by offering consciousness raising around contemporary anti-Asian racism. They provide a close-knit community that uplifts young men as they navigate life away from their families and acclimate to college environments that are often defined by white ideals of success. But these communities can also expose pledges to violence and trauma through their initiation rites—an aspect brought to light in the tragic case of Michael Deng, a freshman at Baruch College who in 2013 died while being hazed. Tam’s performance probes how multicultural fraternities represent the search for male intimacy, the way masculinity is used to negotiate cultural identity, and the ritualization of violence within all-male spaces.

For The Crossing, Tam will work with a group of performers to create a piece that pulls from the structure and choreography of highly stylized probates—the public unveiling of new fraternity pledges. Recognizing the symbolism of these ceremonies as a type of rebirth—the erasure of one identity and the emergence of a new one within the context of the fraternity—Tam will also look to Taoist funeral rites, ceremonies that shift the focus away from death and onto the value of life and caretaking by spirits.

Curated by Lumi Tan.

Artist’s Research and References

While developing The Crossing, Tam has been researching the history of Culturally Based Fraternal Organizations (CBFOs) and some of the practices that are associated with them, including probate ceremonies and hazing. Included below is background information on CBFOs, along with links to and quoted selections from some of the texts and videos that Tam has referenced throughout his research process. These materials are organized into sections based on subject.

For more information please click here.
Image courtesy of the event organizer.