Global Agitator: An Interview with Anida Yoeu Ali

Since the debut of Hybrid Skin, Mythical Presence in January, visitors to the Seattle Asian Art Museum have been enthralled by Anida Yoeu Ali’s dynamic performance-based artworks. Now, we speak with the Tacoma-based international artist with the activation of The Buddhist Bug behind her and the activation of The Red Chador taking place on Saturday, June 1.


SAM: Something that connects The Buddhist Bug and The Red Chador is their incredible visual impact that sparks immediate curiosity and delight: the humor and vivid color of the bug and the entrancing sequins of the chadors in all colors of the rainbow. Is this an artistic strategy?

ANIDA YOEU ALI: I know people in general don’t expect to see my specific Asiatic face, with its stoic countenance—which I have inherited from my mother and grandmother—as the visage of The Buddhist Bug or The Red Chador. I’m interested in hypervisibility and an acknowledgement of my presence. I tend to place my body in colors that evoke some kind of joy and pleasure or an infusion of “fabulousness.” For me, performance allows for a magic of reinventing the self and projecting a larger-than-life persona that isn’t imprisoned by oppressive representations. There’s an awareness of the spectacle and ultimately a power in reclaiming the gaze, which has trapped and dehumanized so many of us and our communities.

SAM: You’ve said that the sculptural garments are “artifacts” when not being performed. Tell us about the exhibition space experience you’ve hoped to create for visitors to the museum.

ALI: Many of my installations, whether wearable garments or otherwise, require activation in which the live body completes the artwork. My art form is performance-installation where meters and meters of textile act as skin, as a way for the surface of my body to extend into public spaces, and as a metaphoric device for stories to spread across an expanse. But those stories aren’t literal or spoken; they are experienced through performances and encounters. The audience will need to do the hard work of figuring out what all this might mean to them: personally, politically, and/or spiritually.

I want visitors to pay attention to the encounter they are having with the colors on the walls, the colors of the textile, the highlighted text quotations, the artifacts of performance through exhibited videos, photographs, and installations. In the end, visitors will feel something and they might even be provoked.

SAM: It turns out that The Buddhist Bug and The Red Chador have both been performed at least 16 times. What new discoveries have you made as you’ve enacted the works at different times and places around the world?

ALI: As a performance artist, I put my body into public spaces and take on people’s reactions and responses. If my work provokes, then that means people are not only thinking but they are feeling. I create out of feelings and I want others to feel as well. With every live performance, my body is so publicly accessible that I must engage in a lot of visualization and meditative activities in preparation for a worst-case-scenario situation. However, what grounds me is knowing that someone will be positively affected, whether it’s the ability to bring warmth and smiles to them for a brief moment or offering something unexpected that they will think about beyond the live moment. For me, in every location around the world children and youth have responded with the most joy, curiosity, and genuine wonder. Children have disarmed rare situations in which adult reactions have been alarming or hurtful.

SAM: And what are you excited about for the upcoming performance of The Red Chador on June 1?

ALI: Because my works are more known outside of the US context, I am excited to finally bring this epic performance to the Seattle area. There’s a freedom I feel with performing in public spaces and enacting fantastical/mythical heroines that’s extremely powerful and necessary. All I want to do is to be able to offer people inside and outside my communities an opportunity to witness, engage, and experience a glimpse of the world that I have worked so rigorously to hone.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

This article first appeared in the February through May 2024 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Photos: Chloe Collyer & Alborz Kamalizad.

Muse/News: Living Color, Art Home, and Sargent’s Fashion

SAM News

“Artist, Agitator, Bug”: For University of Washington Magazine, Shin Yu Pai writes about Anida Yoeu Ali: Hybrid Skin, Mythical Presence, now on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

“Ali notes that the themes in her work, like the history of war, trauma and genocide, are not frequently presented in mainstream cultural institutions. She seeks to be politically provocative and aesthetically remarkable while also conveying playfulness and joy.”

Former Seattleite Leslie Kelly returns for a fun-filled weekend for the Spokesman-Review’s “Going Mobile” series, making stops at the Olympic Sculpture Park and the Seattle Art Museum to see Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection.

Via Seattle Met: “Artist Cristina Martinez Shares Her Favorite Seattle Spots”—including the Seattle Art Museum. 

“As a family we spend a significant amount of time there…I always make my kids show me their favorite and least favorite piece.”

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Margo Vansynghel brings you “6 Seattle photo exhibits to see in March.” Shout out to Jo Cosme, a former Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Graphic Design at SAM; go see her show at 4Culture!

Crosscut Now takes you behind the scenes of Seattle Opera as it prepared to debut X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X. See it there now through March 9.

Elizabeth Hunter and her daughter Cora continue their explorations of cultural spaces; this time, they visit Wa Na Wari in the Central District to enjoy art…and cookies. 

“These little reminders of home—a claw foot bathtub, the smell of food cooking in the kitchen—are what make Wa Na Wari such a memorable art venue. No matter where you are, you are reminded: This is a home.”

Inter/National News

Via Colin Moynihan for The New York Times: “What’s in a Name? For This Rembrandt, a Steep and Rapid Rise in Price.”

Big news for the museum field: “Marilyn Jackson Named the New President and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums.”

Jo Lawson-Tancred for Artnet on Sargent and Fashion, which is now on view at Tate Britain in London after a successful run at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“Like an antidote to the avant-garde, Sargent’s paintings have a timeless charm owed to his uncanny ability to bring subjects to life on canvas… Walking through the galleries, one feels almost like they are stepping into a century-old conversation between fully sentient figures.”

And Finally

“Bartell’s has always been more than a drugstore.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Chloe Collyer.

Muse/News: Ali’s Debut, New in Old, and Cornell Gifts

SAM News

Anida Yoeu Ali: Hybrid Skin, Mythical Presence has made its dramatic debut at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Jim Dever of KING5 Evening shares this story: “Tacoma artist Anida Yoeu Ali transforms herself to transform others.” Mike Davis of KUOW includes the show in his “list of new art exhibits challenges and inspires.” The exhibition was recommended in a recent Stranger Suggests and in this fun video by The Ticket. And Craig Sailor reviews the show for The News Tribune and its South Sound readers: “Tacoma artist with reputation as global agitator now has solo show at Seattle Art Museum.”

“‘I’m constantly fluctuating between the insider/outsider perspective at any one point,’ she explained Tuesday during a press preview of the show. ‘I’m never quite the person that people expect me to be, whether that’s a local or a foreigner, an insider to a culture, or an outsider, whether I’m here or there.’”

Conde Nast Traveler includes the Seattle Art Museum on its list of “The 16 Best Things to Do in Seattle,” calling out the “well-curated” exhibitions throughout the space.

Speaking of SAM’s collections galleries: American Art: The Stories We Carry was referenced in Artsy’s feature, “15 Leading Curators Predict the Defining Art Trends of 2024.” Marina Isgro of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden name-checked SAM’s 2022 reinstallation of its American art galleries as a trendsetter for other institutions.

Local News

Charles R. Cross offers this remembrance of a Seattle legend: “Susie Tennant, early champion of Nirvana and other bands, dies at 61.”

Get ready for “10 must-see Seattle art shows in February 2024” recommended by the Seattle Times’ Margo Vansynghel.

Brangien Davis’s recent ArtSEA post highlights creative organizations that creatively repurpose old spaces.

“Alongside the city’s constant expansion, arts venues tend to be in flux, always coming and going. Many take a hermit crab approach, making homes in old buildings that lost their original purpose amid the changing times.”

Inter/National News

“A Fire at a Seattle Gallery Destroys Works By Picasso, Rembrandt, and Goya”: A fire at Davidson Galleries made national news, including this from Artnet’s Adam Schrader.

The Olympic Sculpture Park is nominated for Best Sculpture Park in USA Today 10Best’s annual readers’ choice awards. Public voting takes place now until February 19. Maybe you’d like to make your voice heard?

Via Deborah Solomon of the New York Times: “National Gallery of Art Receives Major Gift of Joseph Cornell Boxes.”

“…Cornell seems perfect for the nation’s capital because his story is so archetypally American. He was obstinate, cranky and consumed with the beauty of common objects; he persisted with his art in the face of enormous loneliness. Living with his mother and his disabled brother, he found his inspiration in the work of other artists and dedicated his boxes to figures ranging from the composer Franz Schubert to the poet Emily Dickinson to the television actress Patty Duke.”

And Finally

Art But Make It Sports never misses.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: L. Fried.

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