Adele H. Stamp Student Union - Center for Campus Life

Not Your Model Minority
Pandemic, Proximity, and Power

Wall 2 - Asian Femme Body x Power

Asian Femme Body x Power

Historically, the Asian Femme Body is coded as silent, submissive, invisible yet hypersexualized, and without agency. Outside of motherhood and domesticity and sexual deviancy, there were few realms attributed to the Asian femme within the American imaginary. Yet, the artists of Not Your Model Minority challenge these assumptions by inserting their own narratives and lived experiences. 

kumar subverts the Western male gaze through the language of BDSM and kink, Lee explores themes of ability, injury, and healing in athletics, Akireddy reflects on the weight of her name, and huang inserts her avatar, the Chinese cowgirl, amidst the white, male-dominated space of the Cowboy Artists of America. How is the Asian femme body depicted as it traverses these spaces? Where does the power lie—in the viewer, the artist, or subject, or beyond? 

Still Training from Selina Lee on Vimeo.

Selina Lee, Still Training, 2020. 9:51 min. video.

Still Training is a two-part video performance featuring an underwater interview between the artist and her running teammates, followed by an underwater monologue by the artist. The artist and the interviewees are aqua-jogging, an activity which allows you to run in a pool, eliminating the impact of hard surfaces. Aqua-jogging in the running community is associated to injury, which is associated to alienation.

The athletes in this video are all injured and absent from their training on land—experiencing the grief which accompanies both physical and mental alienation. For the artist specifically, additional grief accompanies a lifetime of disappointment in sports, resulting from the racial profiling of East Asian athletes as “timid,” “weak,” “nerdy,” or “undesirable.”

inauguration (excerpt) from stephanie mei huang on Vimeo.

stephanie mei huang, inauguration, 2020. VHS-c converted to digital, sound, video, found footage, 6 minutes.

A parafictional documentary in which my double, a Chinese cowgirl avatar, recounts her admission into the Cowboy Artists of America, a contemporary society of artists, dedicated to upholding frontier mythology. Aside from the first and only indigenous member to be inducted in 1993, the CAA have always been composed of white men, and refer to themselves as a “brotherhood.”


Nibha Akireddy, Bha:भ, 12” x 12”, oil on wood panel, 2020

This piece started a journal of the month of April, a month in quarantine as I took online classes at home. It was inspired by the countless hours I spent on Zoom in my old high school bedroom, brushing my teeth in our old bathroom again, cohabitating with the cockroaches in my family’s garage/my temporary converted painting studio. But this piece took on a new meaning when, this Spring, for the first time in maybe six years, I had an Indian professor who pronounced my name correctly, with the full depth of the breathy bha in Nibha, shown by the bha (भ) letter. This painting turned into a chronicle of my relationship with my name and learning how to pronounce it correctly myself. I still can’t say it like my mother does, with the confident knowledge of the Hindi alphabet that I lack, but at least I can stop using a fake name when I make dinner reservations.

stephanie mei huang, seven self-portraits as a cowboy, 2019. 3'x4', oil on linen, sisal, horse shoes.

payal kumar, dowry, watercolor and ink. 2019

payal kumar, decolonize yr thirst, acrylic, watercolor, and ink. 2019

payal kumar, kulfi. acrylic, watercolor, and ink, 2020.

payal kumar, bite. watercolor and ink, 2020

payal kumar, haanji, watercolor and ink. 2019

payal kumar, "submissive desi woman" series, 2019-2020, watercolour, acrylic, ink.

One of my recent series explores the trope of the "submissive desi woman" through the lens of racialized and queer/gendered power and pleasure. As brown women and femmes, we find our bodies and sexuality defined outside of our agency as soon as we're visible- we are inscribed with docility, naivety, novelty, disgust (particularly for those of us who fall outside the realm of "desirability" or hold multiple marginalized identities). In the vulnerable and intimate space of a sexual/sensual encounter, kink provides an explicit framework to communicate of power dynamics and boundaries that can be really powerful as someone routinely silenced by external conditions- the power dynamics of control, authority, pain, and pleasure continue to exist outside of these encounters, but we don’t often get the ability to control and manipulate them safely. In public spaces, I am fetishized and dehumanized without my consent. In the visceral moments of an intimate encounter, I can consent and become the subject of my own experience. I can return your gaze and still demand that you objectify me. By contrasting motifs around bondage and sensuality with symbols of idealized South Asian femininity and domesticity (such as traditional desserts and elaborate gold jewelry), these images create an exploratory space that asks us who is in control. What does it look like to reclaim the tired trope of the south asian femme, submissive and devoid of pleasure? Does the "submissive" still hold appeal if willful? What is the relationship between south asian femininity and sexual agency? Where is the boundary between exotic, erotic, and exhausted?