Where are the stories that reject the quest for beautiful and revel in the ugly?
Since last year, there have been many changes at Project As[I]Am. We’ve produced our own in-house media. Our volunteer staff has grown from three to eight. The logo and style of the website has changed dramatically. Through it all we’ve continued to work with inspiring people who, with their art and activism, challenge what it means to be Asian American.
This fall, we have brought into conversation the works of fourteen creators which made us re-think concepts around beauty and ugliness. “Unpalatable” takes inspiration from an essay by disability justice activist Mia Mingus entitled “Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability.” Our staff was drawn to Mingus’ key idea of seeking liberation through magnificence, rather than beauty. Liberation through the embrace of varying stories, ones that already exist but are not often spoken because they do not make the audience comfortable. Or, as Mia put it in a recent interview with podcaster Nia King, “justice and equality don’t have to equal sameness.”
That was our spark. In our call for submissions, we sought stories that engaged with ugliness and difference. We discussed the push and pull of assimilation and what it means to embrace ugliness rather than back away from it. As a result, “Unpalatable” features a broad spectrum of critical pieces on transnational adoption, body hair, and “acceptable” artistic practices.
We don’t claim that this cross-section is representative, but we hope that this range of pieces gets at different aspects of the theme. We seek to challenge our readers as we were challenged: to look beyond expected stories that aspire towards a certain type of sameness. What would it mean if we chose not to make our stories palatable to anyone other than ourselves?
Below you’ll find links to the variety of pieces that we’ve chosen to include for this issue. If they make you think, make you laugh, and/or just make you want to see more, consider supporting Project As[I]Am through a subscription or a one-time donation. Thank you!
With care from the entire Project As[I]Am Team
Table of Contents
Selections from The Trouble with Humpadori
Poetry from an upcoming book by Vidhu Aggarwal that challenge artistic aesthetics. Visual art accompaniment by Bishakh Som.
Reclaiming Durian: Visual Storytelling by Cynthia Fong
A visual art piece that mixes storytelling about durian, embarrassment, and family.
Ugly is an Empty Room: Prose by Sanaa
A prose piece by Sanaa exploring body hair, family, and South Asian beauty norms.
HOSTAGES: Speculative Non-fiction by Alison Kinney
A short speculative non-fiction about adoption, rebellion, and “challenging the cuteness of good babies” by Alison Kinney.
Light Gold: Visual Art by Joelle Riffle
A visual art piece on “heritage and genealogy as an ethnically ambiguous mixed race woman” created by Joelle Riffle.
Self-Portrait of a Shaman: Mixed Media by Sophia Terazawa
An “illustration and invocation” about ancestry, violence, and identity by Sophia Terazawa. Mentions refugees, violent incidents, and self-harm.
I Don’t Want to Be Closed Off: Visual Art by Raychelle Duazo
A visual art piece by Raychelle Duazo on the unacknowledged parts of ourselves. The Unpalatable cover image.
Breaking Through to the Other: A Conversation between AE and Sophia Remolde
The Unpalatable #longread, this conversation between visual and performance artists AE & Sophia Remolde explores resisting artistic norms & aesthetics. Parts I and II.
Hair Stroke & Flowers: Visual Art by Paradise Khanmalek
Mustachioed portraits of brown people by visual artist Paradise Khanmalek.
She Smells: A Poem by Esha Pillay
A poem that “smells of the other” written and read aloud by Esha Pillay.
Jungli: A Poem By Salwa Tareen
A poem about how “hair is” by Salwa Tareen.
Transcending Colors: A Performance Poem by Tsen Ga Tsung
A spoken word piece on gender constructs and racial ones, written and recorded by Tsen Ga Tsung.