Beili Liu’s work is a reflection on the experience of immigrants

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Beili Liu’s solemn and poetic installation “Each and Every/Houston” lingers in the brain long after a visitor has left the Asia Society Texas Center. Its massive scale may have something to do with it, but the elements of the piece pose questions with no clear answers.

Located in a central gallery of the four-person exhibition “Making Home: Artists and Immigration”, Liu’s piece has a dramatic focal point: a monochromatic sea of ​​hundreds of items of children’s clothing – onesies, little frilly dresses , T-shirts, pants, socks and baby booties which she individually smeared with cement and laid out on the floor under a heavy “rain” of cotton yarn dipped in concrete.

A Chinese native who lives in Austin and teaches at the University of Texas, Liu created “Each and Every” in 2019 in response to the United States’ family separation and zero tolerance policies that have separated thousands of children from their parents on the country’s southern border under the Trump administration.

A master at choosing materials that respond to her installation sites, she had dipped thousands of white feathers in tar as part of an earlier immigration-themed project. She designed “Each and Every” for a Seattle art space with exposed brick walls, and the mortar between the bricks inspired her use of cement. The result is literally heavy. But above all, the clothes do not rest on the ground. They seem to hover, caught in a liminal space.

A view of Beili Liu’s installation “Each and Every/Houston”, presented at the Asia Society Texas Center as part of the exhibition “Making Home: Artists and Immigration”.

Molly Glentzer / Contributor

In the clean, smooth, bright walls of the Asia Society, the first thing I noticed about the cement was how lifeless it looked. Every item of clothing could be a tombstone in a crowded cemetery.

Issues involving immigrant children at the US-Mexico border persist, but because they haven’t been at the top of the news cycle recently, I also thought this might be a memorial for the families who died in Ukraine. On a softer note, Liu was also preserving memories: she started the project with a pile of her daughter’s used clothes. No doubt parents who have watched their babies grow up and come out in cute outfits can relate.

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And what about that “rain” of wires hanging from the ceiling? Does it involve human tears? Are these lives hanging by a thread? And why do the fine lines stop a few centimeters from the clothes? Could the threads also rise like steam, rather than descend? However you read it, the gap between wires and hardened clothing leaves a palpable pain.

Beili Liu's installation, “Each and Every/Houston,” is on display at the Asia Society Texas Center as part of the “Making Home: Artists and Immigration” exhibit.

Beili Liu’s installation, “Each and Every/Houston,” is on display at the Asia Society Texas Center as part of the “Making Home: Artists and Immigration” exhibit.

Molly Glentzer / Contributor

Liu also performs silent meditation with “Each and Every”, using a small table in the front of the room where a pile of used children’s clothes awaits. On June 18, she will be there with a needle and thread, mending worn-out clothes. The aim is to show what she calls “the redemptive and healing process of women’s work”, but it is also an act of political protest and a reconstruction of personal history. Liu lived in China until the age of 4, in a home where repairing clothes was a necessity and a centuries-old tradition.

The other three performers also lived as immigrants or are children of immigrants. Curator Bridget Bray, who recently moved on after a long stint at the center, has cleverly dedicated a room to each of them. The result is a show that covers a lot of ground without being overwhelming.

A view of Beili Liu's installation

A view of Beili Liu’s installation “Each and Every/Houston”, presented at the Asia Society Texas Center as part of the exhibition “Making Home: Artists and Immigration”.

Asian society

Phung Huynh’s prints and drawings on flattened pink donut boxes allude to family histories as well as savings; 90% of donut shops in California are run by Cambodian immigrants or Khamericans (Cambodian Americans). Her cross-stitch depictions of personalized California license plates with non-Anglicized names suggest a desire to assimilate and belong.

Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s bedroom brings an emotive burst of color. She painted a mural on the back wall with the message “Find hope here”. This sentiment provides a middle ground between the festive spirit of his stunning found-object constructions and the nostalgia for pantry items and other small objects of an Asian American home. The artist’s written poems, displayed on walls and video monitors, enhance the mood.

Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s four-channel video installation “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming” imagines conversations between several worried generations of a Vietnamese community in Senegal. They are the descendants of the Senegalese Tirailleurs, West African colonial soldiers who were part of the French forces sent to fight the Vietnamese liberation uprisings in the 1940s. I didn’t know this story, and Nguyen gives it a voice (or voices ) convincing.

On my way out, I was asked to write down what I had learned and post it on a bulletin board. Of course, not everything would go back to normal. But a testament to the show’s thinking, the painting was already full and layered.

“Making your home: artists and immigration”

When: 11am-6pm Wednesday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday to Sunday, until July 3

Special programs: Phung Huynh workshop, lecture, June 4; Performance by Beili Liu, conference, June 18

Or: Asia Society Texas Center, 1370 Southmore

Tickets: $5 to $8; asiasociety.org/texas


Molly Glentzer is a Houston-area writer.



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