In a largely overlooked Korean creation myth, the gigantic goddess Magohalmi uses her own urine and excrement as raw material to carve and sculpt the world’s mountains, islands, rivers and rocks. For reasons unknown, this orally transmitted myth was excluded from the written record, which demoted her from headliner to supporting act.
But Grandmother Mago’s place in mythological history is being restored thanks to artists such as Zadie Xa, born in Vancouver and now based in London. One of six artists in the group exhibition Feedback Loops, running to March 22 at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne, Korean-Canadian Xa works across performance, painting, video and textiles to investigate notions of hybrid identity, matrilineal knowledge and the Asian diaspora.
She connects with the figure of the shaman as someone who straddles two worlds, although her interest lies more in the liminal space inhabited by those who exist between cultures than the realms of the living and the dead.
“I often imagine clothing to function as a portal into the world one desires,” Xa says. “I am interested in ideas of shape shifting, both in the supernatural and in everyday local performance. We choose to present multiple versions of ourselves every day and do so sometimes unconsciously with clothing and (sometimes) intentionally with style/fashion.”
Xa makes her own spectacular patchwork robes – wearable ones for live performances and videos, and two-dimensional ones for hanging on the wall – adorned with idiosyncratic insignia drawn from popular culture, feminism, fashion, art history and mythology. “The symbols/patchwork function as personal semiotics/vocabulary and as a sort of talisman important for the character’s empowerment,” she says.
Stitching together a firm sense of identity that isn’t reflected in the dominant culture is a lot like making a patchwork garment – a degree of fabulation is required to fill in the gaps during construction. By donning her supernatural cloaks, Xa is able to investigate “how one is able to self-mythologize and write oneself into existence within personal narratives.”
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