Anida Yoeu Ali’s ‘Buddhist Bug’ pays a visit to the Feast Art Center’s gallery

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In this photo, the “Buddhist Bug” is shown going for a ride on a busy street in a bustling Cambodian city. The Bug is the brainchild of Cambodian-American artist Anida Yoeu Ali. A show of photos, video and the Buddhist Bug costume are on display at Feast Arts Center gallery through Nov. 11. Photo courtesy of Anida Yoeu Ali

There is still time to get out and view Anida Yoeu Ali’s art show, “The Buddhist Bug: Familiar Still” at the Feast Arts Center’s gallery, which has become one of the gems of Tacoma’s arts universe. This modestly scaled yet heartful gallery is hosting some of the best art exhibits in town.

“Buddhist Bug” is no exception. The show is more along the lines of an artist’s installation than a traditional gallery exhibit. Along one wall there is a long frieze composed of photographs of scenes of the artist in her guise as the “Buddhist Bug,” an eye-catching, caterpillar-like creature that is long and orange. The opposite wall is painted with a broad, orange band with poetic quotes in white script. Overhanging the full length of the space, and spilling out into the large art studio beyond, is the long, orange, tubular costume that, when worn, becomes the manifestation of the Buddhist Bug. There is also a video monitor that shows footage of the performance pieces in which Ali, in the fantastical costume of the Bug, plays the role of the otherworldly being in various locations in Cambodia.

Ali conceived the Buddhist Bug as a way to ruminate upon the idea of an entity that exists in its own circumstance. It is a thing seemingly strange to the world in which it finds itself. Without facial expression, it goes about observing the people, activities and places in which it finds itself. Ali, as a member of the Cambodian diaspora and as a Cham-Muslim American, uses the vehicle of the Buddhist Bug as a means to explore and to express her own unique identity and experience. The costume itself brings together both Buddhist and Islamic elements. It is the saffron color of the robes of Buddhist monks and the way that it wraps around Ali’s face is much like the head covering worn by many Muslim women of Southeast Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

“The Bug,” says Ali, “is a fantastic, saffron-colored creature that can span the length of a 40-metre bridge or coil into a small orange ball. Rooted in an autobiographical exploration of identity, the Bug comes from my own spiritual turmoil between Islam and Buddhism. Set amongst everyday people in ordinary moments, the Bug provokes obvious questions of belonging and displacement.”

The Bug makes appearances in variety of scenic spots: busy streets, villages, weedy cemeteries, on boats, near decrepit docks, on palm-tree fringed waterfronts, in front of crumbling ancient ruins or crisply, whitewashed mosques.

The scenarios make for stunning scenes captured as photographs. Appearances of the Bug form narrative vignettes that make for fascinating videos. The Bug remains expressionless, yet is clearly curious to observe its surroundings and those that occupy the places that it visits. The Bug is unmoved by either the delighted glee on the faces of children or the stern, perplexed and sometimes hostile faces of the adults. (The difference in reaction between children and adults is striking.)

Ali (born in Battambang, Cambodia in 1974) is an artist whose works span performance, installation, video, images, public encounters, and political agitation. She is a first-generation Muslim Khmer woman born in Cambodia and raised in Chicago. After residing for over three decades outside of Cambodia, Ali returned to work in Phnom Penh as part of her 2011 U.S. Fulbright Fellowship. Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to artmaking, her installation and performance works investigate the artistic, spiritual and political collisions of a hybrid transnational identity.

Ali’s artistic work has been the recipient of grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council. Ali earned her B.F.A. from University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and a master of fine arts from the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a founding collaborative partner of Studio Revolt, an independent artist run media lab in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Studio Revolt’s public performances and resulting images of Gallery X and Public Square were part of Our City Festival 2011 and 2012 (Phnom Penh). “The Buddhist Bug” has been exhibited in Phnom Penh galleries, Singapore International Photography Festival, Malaysia Heritage Centre Singapore, Southeast Asia ArtsFest London, and featured at the fifth Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial where Ali participated as an artist in residence.

This is a visually appealing show that is funny, fascinating, brilliantly executed and eye-opening.  Catch it while you can. It runs through Nov. 11.
Feast Arts Center is in the Hilltop neighborhood, at 1402 S. 11th St. (behind the Hilltop Safeway). The gallery is open Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and by appointment (they are very good about opening to visitors if you send an e-mail: feastartscenter@gmail.com). For further information on Ali and the Buddhist Bug, visit anidaali.com. For more on Feast Arts Center, visit feastarts.com.

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