stephanie mei huang – 
(self-portraits as) neither donkey nor horse

Los Angeles... Allison C Smith, recent graduate from CalArts’ School of Critical Studies MA program in Aesthetics & Politics, presents a solo-exhibition dedicated to the work of stephanie mei huang, entitled ‘(self-portraits as) neither donkey nor horse’. Exhibiting, programming and publishing on huang’s work, Smith draws from their academic work on queer theory, parasitical drag, and feminist new materialisms in contemporary southern Californian performance studies. Smith curates new and recent works by huang regarding racial melancholia and grief as explored through a cowboy drag avatarism of the (Asian) American West. A para-narrative is met with an auto-theory that ruptures throughout huang’s paintings, sculpture, photography, graphic design, performance, and video/film works, as well as collaborative works with V Haddad, Christina Huang, Nat Moonhill, Sam Richardson, and Ada Smith.

About ‘(self-portraits as) neither donkey nor horse’

Both Smith and huang follow a queer practice in their works— both bottom4bottom, baby4baby, born in 1994. The exhibition ‘(self-portraits as) neither donkey nor horse’, centers, celebrates, obscures para-narrativism and auto-theory: a critical practice deeply rooted in queer research and practice. It is through the vehicle of drag, self-portraiture and biography that huang erodes the violent mythologies that perpetuate expansionist, exceptionalist, and settler colonial narratives, while excavating forgotten, erased, and partial histories. ‘(self-portraits as) neither donkey nor horse’, while speaking to huang’s various and fractured avatarisms, prioritizes the narrative of Stirrup Steph— the youngest and first woman to be inaugurated into the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA), a brotherhood dedicated to conserving the culture and history of the old west.

The tall and true tale of Stirrup Steph, and huang's splitting avatars, begs the question: could "cowboy drag," a form of racialized, gendered, affective drag, not unlike code-switching, an embodied passibility, provide a mimetic form of deception/self-preservation? Could it scramble systems of prediction projected upon huang’s body/identity? What are the alluring possibilities that result from racial melancholia: self-contradicting negotiations with pleasure and pain, multiple selves, identity/dis-identity formation?

In the wake of the 2021 Atlanta Spa Shootings, ‘(self-portraits as) neither donkey nor horse’ addresses biopolitical and xenophobic rhetoric that finds its roots in19th century “yellow peril” and is regurgitated/perpetuated in a 21st century anti-Chinese discourse surrounding Covid-19. huang’s work speaks to an urgency of visualizing melancholia and the exposure of grief— a melancholic fixation on that which excludes you: the implausibility of the Stirrup Steph.

Publication Release

MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Schindler House

19 July 2021, 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

A shift/rupture from para-narrative to personal narrative and auto-theory occurs in the publication for ‘(self-portraits as) neither donkey nor horse’. The publication features a curator’s note by Smith, an artist’s essay by huang, and three letters to the artist by Lucas Baisch, Michael Ned Holte, and Ling Tiong. The letter form reflects on a larger practice within queer communities of care centered around letter writing. Each letter touches on an intimate aspect of their relationship with huang as it relates to their current body of work.

For the publication release event, huang collaborates with artist Julie Tolentino, and sound artist Amma Ateria. huang reads from their personal artist's essay, a self-theory, followed by a collaborative work engaging with Tolentino’s multi-decade study and practice with Chinese herbs and Eastern bodywork through a moxibustion— the burning of moxa, a mugwort, an artemisia (which huang spent this past spring foraging), on meridian points on huang’s body in a fortification of the yellow femme's somatics— accompanied by live electroacoustic / binaural beats / equal-loudness contour sound works by Ateria.