Chinese-American artist, Evelyn Wong, is a survivor of multigenerational abuse and developmental trauma. Her experiences in navigating the complexities of being born into a dysfunctional family while growing up in the American South provided her with a unique perspective on what it means to be a woman of color in American society today. Wong received her BFA from the University of South Carolina and her MFA from Maine College of Art. She works across a variety of disciplines, including book arts, installation, collage, drawing, painting, and embroidery, and cites artists such as Andrea Dezsö, Kara Walker, Shahzia Sikander, Xiyadie, Sonya Clark, and author Laura Esquivel as sources of her inspiration.
Wong’s research into various narrative formats has led to investigations on the use of various book forms with Asian origins as a reference to her own story and heritage. Her work highlights the problems of unquestioned practices found in the long-held traditions and patriarchal attitudes of Chinese culture that contribute to women’s invisibility and oppression. Her work reflects the state of liminality experienced by someone who exists between American society and Chinese culture, and questions whether the problems she sees are so different from one culture to another.
What is our responsibility in dismantling the power structures and disrupting the social practices that uphold harmful and toxic attitudes, and how do we give voice to affected communities?
Studies by the American Psychological Association found that Asian American women have one of the highest rates of chronic depression and suicide ideation. The causes of this vary widely, but online communities for women in the Asian diaspora reveal that a major factor is the oppressive and patriarchal nature of filial piety, which is imposed on us from an early age. Filial piety’s historical intent was to create a social structure that would establish familial harmony and respect. However, its oppressive nature and negative view towards women led to daughters who have been verbally and physically abused, expected to maintain unrealistically high standards, and psychologically manipulated into fear and submission. The glorification of women’s virtuousness and chastity meant that daughters are frequently isolated from peers and forbidden from social activities–their bodies commodified as vessels of procreation and objects for the male gaze. Mental health problems are seen as a weakness of virtue and nature, thus family members often deny that their daughters’ mental health is at risk for fear of bringing shame and dishonor to the family name. These women fear speaking out as members of their own community shame them for voicing unhappiness, believing that it would label all Asian cultures and men as oppressive. These women are forced into cycles of invisibility in society and lack support for mental health care, even though centuries of such practices have led to generational and developmental trauma for many.
I am interested in the cultural narratives of, and resulting from, these toxic cultural beliefs from a historical and contemporary perspective. My work reveals and critiques similar values across cultures by relating my stories and the stories of Asian women to narratives outside of the Asian diaspora, and examines ways to give a voice to survivors, elicit empathy, and change these harmful social practices.