Winterview with Performance & Visual Artist – The Shanghai Pearl

To celebrate 13 weeks of winter, Hàlön Chronicles will be conducting one interview a week for 13 weeks. Join us on the hashtag #13Winterviews, or check out our right-side blog hop to sneak a peek at all the wonderful authors and artists I’ll be interviewing in the coming weeks.

Hosted by: K. J. Harrowick

I have to admit, I’m very excited about this week’s interview. The wonderful woman you’re all about to meet is what I think of when writers talk about kick-ass heroines. A strong woman who embraces her femininity, artistry, creativity and sexuality. The Shanghai Pearl has all of these qualities and is a powerful force in the community, a voice of rebellion against cultural tropes which seek to dehumanize and commodify women.

So, without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce The Tantalizing Temptress from Taipei, Tempestuous Temple of Temptation, and Princess of Pulchritude:

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am an immigrant from Taiwan. I am an Asian American artist, entrepreneur, professional weirdo, and boss lady.

 

What types of art do you create, and why?

I am a performance and visual artist that explores body politics, race, gender, power, and wildness with humor, glamour and striptease.

My background is in visual art and I am also trained in theater, burlesque, and clown. I’m most widely known for my burlesque, cabaret and variety work. I also work with assemblage and soft sculpture.

I affectionately refer to myself as a sex clown and a professional weirdo. My good friend Jo Jo Stiletto has referred me as a ‘delight-mare’, which I love.

I do what I do because I think there is a magic to live performance and a magic to humans having a shared experience.

I do it because I do not see myself reflected in our larger culture and representation is important.

My childhood was not a great one, it was very strict, patriarchal and misogynistic. The messages I received at home and out in the world were that women were defined by their consumability, reproductive capabilities and generally ‘less than’.

As long as I can remember I have never accepted this. I’ve always rebelled at the idea that women were less than. I knew it was bullshit before I knew the word bullshit :).

My work centers around resisting, rebelling, and destroying this narrative, that women are anything less than powerful, full humans that deserve the world.

I love this quote from Junot Diaz about why he writes:

You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it. cite


It resonates with me deeply and I often think about what a privilege it is to hold a mirror and be a mirror.

 

What were your early influences, and how does this manifest in your work today?

I remember getting my hands on a book called Angry Women by V. Vale & ReSearch – I think I was around 12. Learning about women like Annie Sprinkle and the Guerrilla Girls was very impactful. Learning about these radical, subversive and sexual women was pretty incredible. This reminds me I need to find my copy or buy another copy.

I’ve also always been very attracted to vintage erotica, cheesecake pin ups, women like Bettie Page, and old burlesque queens. You’ll see a lot of the classic pin up imagery and aesthetic in my work – in posing and styling as well as a great love for the ‘high femme’, womanliness and pleasure.

 

What’s the voice you bring to your dance, or the statement underlying your work.

I’m best known for mixing elegance and grace with comedic narratives and bawdy antics.

I think sex is hilarious and ridiculous and I show that in my work.

The dominant culture wants to show and sell that sex or ‘sexy’ looks a certain way or is a certain size, shape, smell that it exists in a small specific box. I want to blast that box to smithereens. Fuck that box.

There are so many stories missing from the dominant culture, so many women and voices missing.

I love Audre Lorde’s essay Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power. I encourage everyone to read it as often as possible.

For women, this has meant a suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information within our lives.

We have been taught to suspect this resource, vilified, abused, and devalued within western society. On the one hand, the superficially erotic has been encouraged as a sign of female inferiority; on the other hand, women have been made to suffer and to feel both contemptible and suspect by virtue of its existence.

It is a short step from there to the false belief that only by the suppression of the erotic within our lives and consciousness can women be truly strong. But that strength is illusory, for it is fashioned within the context of male models of power. cite


The truth is: Women are powerful. Women’s pleasure is powerful and important.

 

What are your inspirations?

There is no rhyme or reason to what I can inspire me. I’ve been inspired by colors, paintings, dumb jokes, wordplay, music. Nature, beautiful fabrics, decadent decades and their famous couturiers have all been sources of inspiration. I try to have my eyes, ears and heart open as often as possible.

 

You also design and create your own costumes, is this correct?

Yes! I design all of my own costumes. I make as much as my skill level allows. When something is beyond my skill level or if I have a more urgent timeline I’ve been able to work with some amazing artists and couturiers. I have worked with Danial Hellman, Esther Garcia, Francis Ritter and Catherine D’lish.

 

Tell us about your latest work and how it came to life.

There are two new performance pieces with very different leans.

The first was an act I created for my friend Jo Jo Stiletto’s Miss Fishnet’s Stripper Mysteries, a burlesque show inspired by Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. After some noodling I decided I wanted to do a play on the ‘girl in a champagne glass’ but in a giant diaphragm. This idea cracked me up to no end and I had to make it a reality. Phryne and her diaphragm (or Diaphryne- thanks Hyacinth Lee!), is also a play on the trope of the tiny pocket-sized woman (e.g. Playboy’s ubiquitous Femlin).

It’s a comedic, narrative piece and an utterly indulgent exercise in ridiculousness.

Another recent piece, Bird Girl, was inspired from a sublime painting by London artist, Amy Judd. It’s a more abstract piece and more of a visual performance art piece with themes around my experience with white supremacy: being surrounded by it and living in/with it.


If you’re in the Seattle area, be sure to check out one of The Shanghai Pearl’s amazing performances. Or keep up with her shows and events news on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also find the lovely performance artist at these places on the web:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Additional Photo Credits: Jenny Crooks | Jules Doyle | Heather Schofner | Scott Foster


Before you leave, don’t forget to check out all the amazing Winterviews Authors & Artists. 🙂

One comment to Winterview with Performance & Visual Artist – The Shanghai Pearl

  • Maria Guglielmo  says:

    Wow! Awesome interview and the pics are amazing. Fantastic costumes and color. I wish I was back on the West Coast to catch the show!

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