Mixed Race Female
by Makeda Duong
About the exhibition
Informed by the history of gender relations in the western world, my practice attempts to unpick the dominant cultural narratives surrounding representations of race, mental health, and the experience of contemporary womanhood. Through presenting and interpreting my lived experience, my works tend to develop as a result of personal crisis or difficulty.
Previously my practice developed by exploring the western history of domestic textiles processes, and how these have continued to influence our understanding of gender. I began to utilise the grid like structures in knitting and counted thread embroidery–such as cross stitch–to display text, which ‘speaks’ to the viewer. Recently my practice has evolved to include a focus on examining my racial identity, and exploring how mixed race and Asian women are sometimes viewed through a lens of orientalism and exoticism.
After receiving a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, I have attempted to represent my experience of living with this condition, and to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions that are harmful to those of us with mental illnesses. I have also become interested in exploring the historical connection attributed to mental illness and creativity, and the problems associated with this idea – for example, the stereotype of the ‘tortured genius’.
Explore the exhibition
This work is loosely based on another drawing I produced when I was in an elevated bipolar mood. I occasionally experience a lesser version of mania known as hypomania. Having an excess in positive mood is not generally associated with mental illness, and as a result some individuals struggle to reach a proper diagnosis, or to become aware that what they are experiencing can be damaging to them. Symptoms can include feelings of euphoria, increased confidence, racing thoughts, and an increase in creativity, ideas and motivation. The eye stands as a symbol for insomnia, while the body of the piece mimics the internal structure of the clitoris. My first name is occasionally mistaken for ‘Makita’, which also happens to be the name of a popular brand of power tools. I feel it is almost a suitable name for the hyperactive alter-ego that sometimes takes over me in the midst of an episode. ‘Oh, Makita, like the drill?’
– Makeda Duong
How does one respond to a global pandemic? I had been casting my hands and fingers in plaster since February this year, without much of a concrete aim behind what I was making. When Covid-19 became an international emergency, I suddenly realised what I wanted to use them for. Suddenly we all became anxious and hypervigilant about what we were doing with our hands and faces, and actions that were previously mundane took on the potential to be deadly. On the cloth, I have embroidered small tid-bits I’ve observed specific to coronavirus, including Scott Morrison’s public reprimand of Australia’s hoarding frenzy, and a segment of American rapper Cardi B’s ‘Coronavirus Rant’ on YouTube, which went viral online and was remixed into a popular piece of music. I am awed by not only the resourcefulness and tenacity that ordinary people have shown in the wake of this disruption, but also the ways in which humour is continually used as a tool to cope with this frightening and sometimes bizarre crisis that has been thrust upon us.
– Makeda Duong
This work is my personal exploration of what it can feel like to be in an altered state of mind caused by a mood disorder. It is based on some scribblings and doodles I made when I was unwell. Translating what was frenetically drawn or written into the slower, calmer medium of embroidery, stitch by stitch, allowed me to reflect upon and make sense of my diagnosis. It also enabled me to grapple with the harmful stereotype that Bipolar Disorder is a ‘quirk’ of the creative mind, and a ‘price’ that some pay for creativity. While there has recently been more public awareness raising about depression and anxiety, conditions such as Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Schizophrenia are still heavily stereotyped, sometimes trivialised, and stigmatised to the point of being discriminatory and harmful to sufferers. While these conditions are not easy to live with, many people with these illnesses are able to live healthy lives and flourish when they receive the right treatment and management.
– Makeda Duong
This work was created for a group exhibition on diaspora and racial identity in Australia. It features pseudo Asian and Australian iconography; a geisha and a cherry blossom appear with a pair of thongs, alongside imagery from the Vietnam War. My father is from Southern Vietnam, while my mother’s side of the family is Australian. Part of the aim of this work is to explore Asian stereotypes, and how Asian and mixed race women are sometimes perceived through the lenses of exoticism and orientalism.
– Makeda Duong
With this work I hope to touch on the complexity of being a biracial Australian by exploring issues of belonging, otherness, and the feelings of being caught in-between cultures that second and third generation immigrants can experience. The front is knitted in the colours of the Australian flag, while the back features the South Vietnamese flag colours. It showcases a collection of the questions and comments I occasionally get asked about my racial appearance. Other people’s curiosity sometimes leads me to reflect on these questions myself. What indeed am I? Am I Vietnamese? Am I Australian? Am I both? Neither? I aim to examine my own racial identity more closely, as well as explore how my identity and sense of belonging may be reflective of larger cultural anxieties within Australia.
– Makeda Duong
Meet the artists & curators
Makeda Duong graduated from the South Australian School of Art in 2013 with a Bachelor of Visual Arts Specialising in textiles. Following on from her degree, in 2014 she took part in a Helpmann Academy emerging artist’s mentorship with Adelaide artist Sera Waters. Since 2013 she has participated in several group exhibitions, locally and interstate. In her first solo exhibition The Cursed Boyfriend Sweater in 2015, she explored the parallels between craft labour and emotional labour as feminine burdens in contemporary domestic relationships.
She is currently undertaking a Studio Residency at Nexus Arts as part of the SALA Festival 2020, which includes an artist mentorship, this time with local artist Cheryl Hutchens. Her current practice attempts to unravel and represent aspects of her lived experience in relation to themes such as race, gender, sexuality, and mental health. Recent themes in her work explore her identity as a Vietnamese Australian woman and the experiences of a mixed race person living in Australia.
Lizzy Emery is a published writer, educator and artist whose work focuses on histories of women’s crafts. She is in her final year of undertaking a PhD at Flinders University, where she has been a scholarship holder since 2017. Her doctoral research project is focused on histories of feminist craft from the mid-1970s to the present day. Lizzy is an avid crafter who teaches a range of textile crafts from her home studio in Adelaide’s inner-west. She has also taught as a sessional lecturer at both The University of South Australia and Flinders University, teaching subjects including Textiles Studio, Art History and Women’s Studies. In her work as a crafter Lizzy facilitates a range of community based workshops and projects. Her pedagogical approach is based on creating non-hierarchical encounters between artist and participant to facilitate meaningful experiences of creativity where both parties learn from each other. Along with her craft practice Lizzy is interested in anarchist philosophy, Witchcraft, foraging, ecological sustainability and gardening. She is the proud mama of five lively chickens, who she raises in collaboration with her partner.