Zadie Xa: Connecting Time and Space

Feature by Serena Cowie

Image credit: Zadie Xa, Child of Magohalmi and the Echos of Creation, live performance as part of Art Night London (2019). Devised with and performed by Iris Chan, Jia-Yu Corti, Mary Feliciano, Jihye Kim and Yumino Seki, percussion_ Jihye Kim. Courtesy the artist and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

 

Artist Zadie Xa is a storyteller. Her highly immersive and otherworldly paintings, installations and video-works explore the Asian diaspora and the environmental and cultural milieu of the Pacific Northwest. Within many of her recent site-specific works, Xa traverses all formats, mediums and materials, pushing the boundaries of both art and storytelling–harnessing costume, painting, performance, light and sound to animate a diasporic folklore in a way that responds to her heritage and experience as a member of the Korean diaspora. As such, Xa’s works transport viewers into a world of the artist’s creation where shared symbolism and knowledge is conflated with her own perceptions of her cultural heritage.

I am a heart beating in the world: Diaspora Pavilion 2 at Campbelltown Arts Centre includes specially commissioned works that extend upon Xa’s exploration of Korean Shamanic folklore. Overarchingly, the exhibition by 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and International Curators Forum in partnership with Campbelltown Arts Centre (where it is currently installed and available for viewing online) considers the navigations, imaginings and lived experiences of six artists based in Australia, the UK and the Caribbean–bringing together Xa, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Kashif Nadim Chaudry, Lindy Lee, Leyla Stevens and Daniela Yohannes. The exhibition showcases three artworks created by Xa in 2019. Pilgrimage 2 Family Through the Portal of Green Ghost and its counterpart Pilgrimage 2 Family Through the Portal of Blue Ghost take the form of two large tapestries–the top half of each work resembling the Hanbok (a traditional Korean dress) and the bottom half taking the form of an orca’s tale. The third work is a film-based installation, which was first unveiled at De La Warr Pavilion in 2020, entitled Child of Magohalmi and the Echoes of Creation immerses viewers into a subaquatic environment through light, sound and sculptural installations. The film presents an origin story inspired by Korean creation myths centred on the giant goddess Grandmother Mago (Magohalmi). Through these works, Xa transforms diasporic experiences into new forms of shared knowledge.

Although Xa references her own cultural experiences and perception, Xa’s work is highly collaborative, not only in the production process but also conceptually. By collaborating with other members of the diaspora, Xa has weaved her own folklore narrative with forgotten histories and contemporary experiences. Since 2006, Xa has worked collaboratively with artist Benito Mayor Vallejo, the duo collaborating on the tapestries included in the exhibition. Born in Spain, Vallejo integrates an exploration of traditional Spanish folklore and history within his practice–and together with Xa, they animate and absorb a variety of personal histories.

The ocean is an enduring source of inspiration within Xa’s expanded practice. The artist resents popular culture’s obsession with the intangible and extra-terrestrial as a source of magic and fantasy, and its dismissal of the boundless mysteries of the natural world. Rather, Xa sees water and nature as gateways to parallel worlds that enable us to connect with past generations. By drawing connections between places, tenses and cultures, Xa is also able to exert agency over her relationship to Korea and her cultural heritage. The artist is particularly attracted to Korean Shamanic culture because of its inherently feminist and anti-colonial features, whereas in mainstream Confucian Korean culture, women are portrayed as demure figures. The artist continues to take multifaceted inspiration from the Shamanic cultures that created safe spaces for women and queer people to escape the repressive gender norms of mainstream Korean society, enabling Xa to grapple with her past in a way that empowers the future of her identity.

Zadie Xa’s work is available for view online as part of I am a heart beating in the world: Diaspora Pavilion 2 at Campbelltown Arts Centre until October 17, 2021.

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Image credit: Zadie Xa, Child of Magohalmi and the Echos of Creation, live performance as part of Art Night London (2019). Devised with and performed by Iris Chan, Jia-Yu Corti, Mary Feliciano, Jihye Kim and Yumino Seki, percussion_ Jihye Kim. Courtesy the artist and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

 

Image credit: Installation view I am a heart beating in the world: Diaspora Pavilion 2, 2021. Front: Zadie Xa, Cellular Portal, 2019, polymer resin, acrylic spray paint, LED lights, dimensions variable, Granny, 2019, denim, and mixed fabrics, dimensions variable. Back: Zadie Xa, Child of Magohalmi and the Echoes of Creation, 2019, single channel HD video, stereo sound, 50min 21sec; commissioned by Art Night London, 2019. Photo: Kai Wasikowski for 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art; I am heart beating in the world: Diaspora Pavilion 2, Campbelltown Arts Centre; courtesy the artist. Presented by 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and International Curators Forum in partnership with
Campbelltown Arts Centre

 

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