Art //

西遊記 (Journey to the west)

It is a testament to the resilience of immigrant and diaspora communities, and a love for how objects hold a wealth of history and experiences within them.

Artwork by Bonnie Huang.

20×20 cm, engraved float glass, bullseye glass, UV adhesive, epoxy resin adhesive

This work was developed on the unceded land of First Nations people, in particular Gadigal and Dharug land.

西遊記 (Journey to the west) is an artwork that stems from my own experience with immigration but is a broader reflection on the liminality that is experienced by any displaced or migrating person.

In the title of this work,西遊記 (Journey to the west), the Chinese is deliberately placed as the main title, the English deliberately in parentheses and the “west” deliberately uncapitalised, as a subversion of power dynamics. Literally, it is speaking to my family’s migration from China to Australia and my experiences of growing up in a detention centre, but also more broadly to the significant migration pattern to western countries in the contemporary world.

On the other level, it is also a literary allusion to the famous Chinese classic novel about the legendary pilgrimage of a Buddhist monk and his companions who travel the “Western Regions” of Central Asia and India together, to obtain Buddhist sacred texts (sūtras) and experience many trials and much suffering along the way. This parallels many immigrant, refugee or asylum seeker experiences where the journey or pilgrimage taken is an arduous one in order to retrieve a “sacred” thing like a safe home, a stable life, a visa, a citizenship certificate. The classic text is a story about a journey towards enlightenment by the power and virtue of cooperation, whereas this work is about a journey towards the idea of “belonging” authorised by the power of the state and institutional recognition, questioning the value of “the state”, etc.

Using a simplified glass form to signify the red-white-blue bag and the shared history of immigration that it contains, the work is both heavy and sturdy yet fragile and ephemeral. It plays with these opposing states of being to tangibly express the liminality that is inherent to the experience of immigration. The box is made of Bullesye glass, an expensive fine-art glass, and an arduous process has been undertaken to create the simple form—highlighting the importance of shared histories and the cultural value of an iconic bag that is often synonymous with “cheapness”. Reflecting the original utilitarian function of the bag, the box is used to contain and encapsulate an unreachable space, acting as a jail. Within the box, barely visible in-between the gaps of the pattern, is a simplified Australian citizenship certificate engraved onto a sheet of float glass. Although a lengthy process to engrave, the materiality of the object is much cheaper than the glass bag, thus questioning societal values assigned to these signifiers.

The work is a reflection of both personal and collective experience and is an ongoing engagement with cultural history, objects and motifs. It is a testament to the resilience of immigrant and diaspora communities, and a love for how objects hold a wealth of history and experiences within them.

Having made it to “the other side” and being an “Australian citizen” now reflecting on the Asian diaspora’s past and learning the value of our shared history, the question I pose is, What does it mean to be recognised?

Thank you to my fellow classmates, Cobi, Ben and Tim for assisting with the conceptual or material development of the work.

Image courtesy of Bullseye Projects