PULLING A TOOTH FROM A TIGER’S MOUTH:
XiangLong Li is a multimedia artist who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He earned his BFA in Illustrated Book degree from China Central Academy of Fine Arts and received MFA in Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts. In his body of works, he remixes images, texts, and 3D model materials from pop culture, social events, and the internet. XiangLong's projects are full of sick jokes, make fun of cultural mistranslation and the cultural discrepancy between China and the West. He uses digital collages, painting, and screenshots exposing the fractured social mores of racism and western settler violence.
The following is a short interview between Hongzheng Han, the curator of Standing Out, the Outstandings, and the participating artist Xianglong Li.
H: How to use "To pull a tooth from a tiger's mouth" in a sentence? (2021) is part of your Learning Chinese with XiangLong series; what inspired you to create this body of work?
L: I was incredibly homesick when I was quarantining in New York during the pandemic. I started an experiment by doing digital work on my laptop at home, and the subject was somehow always connected to my Chinese roots. I guess it was part of the realization of being homesick. Essentially, this new exploration with digital art can also be related to my experience as an international student here in America since 2019. I have seen an abundant amount of mistranslation between English and Chinese here. These mistranslations can lead to significant misunderstanding and misconception. For example, my first English tattoo was “be a nice man.” I don’t know why, but everytime I showed this tattoo to my Western friends, they always laugh, or some menus in the Chinatown have a dish called “Ants climbing a tree,” which is an utterly bizarre translation to my friends whose first language is not Chinese. So I decided to do a series of Learning Chinese videos with animation to teach Western people to understand and use these Chinese words correctly. In a way, this series is me paying homage to my culture or maybe just me remembering how beautiful the language of my country is.
H: What is the cultural and political significance of "pulling a tooth from a tiger's mouth?"
L: “Pulling a tooth from a tiger’s mouth” warns people not to take unnecessary risks. The tiger here signifies China, and pulling a tooth from a “Chinese” tiger suggests the acts of ramping racism happening across the Western world. This metaphor is a satirical performance that also serves as a warning sign.
H: Your practice implies appropriations of pop culture references, internet memes, and social/political events. However, this kind of artistic language is not new; what makes you stand out?
L: As a Chinese teacher in my virtual classroom, I hope my viewers can understand and remember some Chinese idioms, and they would use these idioms in conversation within or outside the art world. I also wish that after attending my language courses, the Western audience could become more aware of the racist stereotypes of China. Thus, it is not only about the knowledge output or language learning; it is more about the educational purpose of defeating racism and prejudice.
H: How are you dealing with this surge of Sinophobia due to the COVID-19 epidemic? Does this situation inspire you creatively?
L: From racist and cultural stereotypes of the Yellow Peril, originated in the late 19th century, to Trump’s insane remarks such as “kong flu,” we, the Asian community in America, are witnessing a continuous surge of hate crimes from 2019 to 2021. And, this surge is all because of the misinformation of the Coronavirus and the undefeatable white supremacy. During this time of chaos and uncertainty, I can only continue making Chinese idiom learning videos for my Youtube Channel “Learning Chinese with Xianglong.” My goal is to attract more Western people to watch these videos and realize the detrimental effects of racist stereotypes and the cruel reality of the Asian experience in America.
H: Standing Out, the Outstandings is an exhibition designed to amplify the long-oppressed Asian voice in America. As one of the ten artists in this show, are there any encouraging words you would like to say to our community?
L: Use everything we can to protect our community and when it is necessary we shall fight back. Be smart and tough, my friends.