“We map the world as it is – not as people would like it to be,” announced the National Geographic, shortly after Russian soldiers stormed Ukrainian military bases in Crimea and the National Geographic was reportedly preparing to change the color of the Crimea on its maps of Eastern Europe.
The latest work of artist Xuchi Naungayan Eggleton may provoke heartburn among cartographers of that august institution. Wish I Were There: Imagined Geographies, recently on display at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, maps the backbreaking journeys of Naungayan Eggleton’s grandparents to the United States – poor fishing families from Ilocos Sur in the Philippines, and the Mexican province of Chiapas – filtered through hazy memory, mercurial associations, and the artist’s predilection for working with tactile materials and sculptural forms.
With the military flair of a striped flag, Wish I Were There subtly pokes fun at the propensity to oversimplify the world by coloring in maps (“red states” vs. “blue states”) and by drawing artificial borders, thus amplifying divisions between communities. The inflammatory rhetoric around migration at the Texas-Mexico border, and the hostile maneuvers by the Chinese navy in the oil-rich South China Sea territories claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei spring to mind.
While the mapmakers of the National Geographic “strive to be apolitical,” Naungayan Eggleton freely merges the personal and the political in her imaginary landscapes, recognizing that the very act of mapping is political.
Calling attention to the materials of her art – molten wax, heavily textured gold and silver leaf, beaded fabrics, bamboo artifacts, immigration documents – to their weighty histories, she lures us away from our Google Maps (those fleeting creations that talk to us so that we don’t even have to read them) to a fantasy world of seductive silhouettes, textures and juxtapositions.
For more on the alluring and provocative art of Xuchi Naungayan Eggleton, see Carla’s review in the Huffington Post.