Merry Christmas! I’ve been at my parents’ house on Long Island since Saturday, eating, sleeping, and baking the occasional bread loaf/pastry/cake.
As 2019 approaches, I’ve also been reflecting on the highlights of 2018. Working on my exhibition, Erasures, was undoubtedly the most significant one. Richard Hourahan, the curator at the Queens Historical Society, reached out to me in October/November 2017 proposing the idea of “a poetry exhibition.” Inspired by “Of Soil and Tongues” at the Hampshire College Art Gallery, he was enamored of the idea that a place fundamentally shapes a culture’s DNA — in particular, language. Our initial conversations made it clear that both of us were invested in telling the story of my Asian-American immigrant heritage, a story that not only connects me to Queens but also stands as an emblematic one unique to the borough.
The exhibition designer Loide Marwanga, a college friend and a graduate of the Yale School of Art, was an amazing collaborator in the most important ways. We first worked together at Yale, when my senior thesis project (a collection of poems) became hers (a chapbook), so I knew her creative process and trusted her to respect my work. I’m also incredibly grateful that she drove to NYC from her hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland, for the two consecutive weekends leading up to the opening for installing the exhibition. She never once complained as she stood for hours pasting the wallpaper up or delicate vinyl lettering with her characteristic precision.
Above all, I’m proud that the exhibition was a truly family affair. My father publicized the event to his friends and customers, who came out in full support. My brother Neal folded miniature origami birds as part of the bookshelves display. My mother prepared a spread that could have fed 300 people. It included a vegetable platter, fruit platter, cheese and cracker platter, and a dessert platter of cookies and banana bread (baked by yours truly from overripe bananas my father brought home). Thematically, the food complemented the poetry well — I write about my childhood at the store and the concept of revision as a fundamental ingredient to creation.
All our hard work paid off: the exhibition was an unequivocal success. Even though the weather was objectively shitty and Google mistakenly informed people that the 7 train wasn’t stopping at Flushing, the room was packed — people were standing. My family, their customers, friends from college, acquaintances, and coworkers all showed up. I was moved, but more importantly, I felt like myself again in its entirety — that writing and sharing poetry is what I’m meant to do. That I’m an artist.