Alison Kuo’s richly detailed sculptural work conjures the Chinese idiom 琳琅滿目 (lín láng mǎn mù). It translates roughly to “glittery gems fill the eye,” but its meaning can expand to include objects, not just jewels. The idiom describes an eclectic array of objects gathered in one place that retains their individual presence amid collective beauty. Emphasizing beauty in both the part and the whole, the phrase is an apt metaphor for Kuo’s new body of work that threads together personal stories, histories, and communities. Her work fills the eye with a great assortment of objects, including family heirlooms and meaningful personal belongings.
Kuo’s tapestries combine an abundance of brightly colored plastic flowers, beads, and small toys on a patchwork of satiny fabric fragments. Chinatown residents may recognize these objects from their neighborhood shops. Kuo’s love for them stems from her childhood visits to street markets in Hong Kong, where she shopped for bargain home goods with her father and learned how to haggle with her nainai, her paternal grandmother. Those fond memories resurface in her engagement with small Chinatown businesses in New York, where she moved from her hometown of Texas in 2010. Chinatown and its residents are a constant source of inspiration for her, and they provide a connection to her Chinese heritage, which she sometimes felt distanced from growing up in the South. In them, she found community.
When the Atlanta spa shootings occurred in 2021, Kuo cofounded the group Sisters in Self-Defense with writer Ava Chin to provide practical self-empowerment training through martial arts for Asian American women, nonbinary people, and elders. Kuo’s experience of working with this group led to the works in this exhibition, which celebrate the exuberance of preparing oneself to fight and the fierceness of brandishing newfound weapons. By putting these objects together in playful combinations, Kuo is giving each greater intrinsic value as an artwork, and a kind of chi in their new context. That positive energy and power is a gift she received from Chinatown locals, who showed her resilience and beauty in the face of hate and injustice.
About the artist:
Alison Kuo is a second generation immigrant who pursues intersectional relationships across communities through artistic engagement. She is the co-founder of the group Sisters in Self-Defense based in Manhattan’s Chinatown.