September 23—December 9, 2023
Middleland is an exhibition consisting of a two-channel video and a series of four paintings that, together, explore the nuanced circumstances of East Asian diasporic migration in Middle America, and the resulting social and cultural transformation, diversity, and complexity. The title refers to both Middle America and a positing of one’s Chinese-American identity “in the middle” of China and America, something that scholar len Ang describes as a feeling of “in-between-ness.” The work does not celebrate this hybridity but rather ambivalently contemplates the violence that such a proximity to whiteness entails.
The body of work is centered around Ba’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio, a city that occupies a unique position in its mythologized and elusive reputation to urbanites (think of the snowballing online joke amongst Gen-Z-ers, “only in Ohio”). Recently emerging as a commerce, tech and banking hub in an otherwise decelerating post-industrial Midwest, Columbus presents itself as a sort of refuge of comfort on its way to becoming a cultural destination while still retaining a certain Midwestern humility. However, its status as a hotly contested swing state facing issues like police brutality, settlement upon Native land, abortion rights, an alienated working class, and a comfortable suburban middle class makes Ohio a ground zero for ideological tension.
This mix of qualities also helps to achieve a certain statistical American averageness and a sort of complacency that, for decades, has drawn in large immigrant populations to search for an antiquated notion of the American Dream. The tension between Ohio as a destination for multiculturalism and Ohio as an embodiment of the traditional suburban values of the Midwest is where Ba’s interest lies the figurative paintings that accompany the video work portray Asian female figures in environments that are drawn from personal memory and are distinctly White, distinctly Midwestern. She is also interested in a critique of multiculturalism as a neoliberal project, most palpable in her video work, 24 Hours in Middleland. As Jared Sexton writes, ” the principle political effects of multiracialism are neither a fundamental challenge to the living legacies of white supremacy… but rather the reinforcement of long standing tenets of antiblackness and the promotion of normative sexuality.” Middleland asks the question, how does white normativity undergird what we both celebrate and condemn about diasporic life in middle America?
Stills from 24 Hours in Middleland, 23 min