Interview by Haiden Bergquist
Poetry and Text by Flo Oy Wong
They Weren’t Supposed, 1994, 19 x 31″ mixed media (rice sack, sequins, threaded text, silkscreen image). Photo: Bob Hsiang.
In 1991, Flo Oy Wong, artist, poet, and educator, was the first Asian American woman appointed by President Helen Klebesadel to the board of the Women Caucus for Art (WCA).
In 1989, Flo had co-founded the San Francisco-based Asian American Women Artist Association (AAWAA) after attending the February conference of WCA in San Francisco. At the end of the conference, she was invited by Moira Roth, Trefethen Professor of Art History at Mills College, to a meeting of prominent women artists-of-color who had attended the conference, including Jaune Quick-To-See-Smith and Gail Tremblay among others.
Because the local Asian American women artists did not belong to an organized group, Moira Roth asked Flo, a Sunnyvale, CA resident and elementary school teacher at the time, to organize the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area Asian American women artists. A newcomer to organized art groups, Flo asked Berkeley artist Betty Kano for help. Together, they sent out a call for the first meeting of what was to become the Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA). Their first gathering took place in March of 1989.
Gee Li Hong, 1998, 24 x 36″, mixed media (rice sack, beads, sequins, stenciled text). Photo: Bob Hsiang.
In 1995, Flo attended the Fourth International Women’s Conference in Huairou, China, as a representative of the Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA) an event that Hillary Clinton, the First Lady of the USA, attended as an invited speaker. At this conference of international women, Flo co-coordinated and exhibited in “Tell Me a Story,” a WCA exhibition in Huairou, China. She also chaired the panel of Asian American Artists after Mills College of Oakland, CA withdrew their delegation from participating. Flo later was awarded the WCA’s President’s Award for her work on behalf of the WCA at the Fourth International Women’s Conference. In 1994, Flo and her husband, Edward K. Wong, on a visit to the People’s Republic of China, had traveled to Beijing in search for exhibition space for WCA women artists to represent the United States.
My Chinatown, 26″h x 19″w, 1983, (mixed media, ribbons, graphite drawings, pastel, silkscreen, thread). Photo: Bob Hsiang
In 1996, Flo was a presenter and catalog essayist for the late Bernice Bing’s Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Women’s Caucus for Art, Boston, MA. To prepare for her presentation of Bernice Bing as an awardee, Flo interviewed Bernice at her Philo, CA home. At the Boston award ceremony, Flo read her laudatory speech in honor of Bernice Bing by quoting from the I Ching, an ancient Chinese book, a source of Confucian and Taoist philosophy.
In 1997/8, Flo exhibits at the US Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia and becomes a teaching resident at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Artist Diversity Residency Program. She collaborates with Timothy Anglin Burgard, Curator of American Art, and exhibits in “Art of the Americas: Identity Crisis” at the M. H. de Young Museum of Art in San Francisco. She begins a collaboration with Kearny Street Workshop on “Made in USA: Angel Island shhh: exploring the identity secrets of Chinese immigrants detained and interrogated in the United States.” The work is funded by the NEA and other funders.
Wiping The Table, 1984, 12″ h x 9″w, graphite pencil drawing on paper. Photo: Bob Hsiang.
Prior to finishing her WCA board tenure, she works with the “Women of Color Caucus” and helps WCA to create a slide packet of women artists of color (an original vision of Moira Roth) which was later funded by Revlon. The sale packet, at that time, was spearheaded by the late artist, Eleanor Merritt, of Sarasota, Florida. WCA invited prominent art historians of each cultural group to jury the selected works. Margo Machida and Krissy Kim curated the artworks of Asian Pacific American Women Artist. The slide packets were produced and made available for sale to various US universities and college art departments.
In 1999, after leaving the WCA board, Flo continued to exhibit widely. A work of art, “House of Light” is selected for the cover illustration for “Yellow Light: The Flowing of Asian American Art.”
Gallery installation shot at the Flomenhaft Gallery in Chelsea, NY (2005). Photo: Bob Hsiang
Today, Flo is working on her poetry that focuses on anti-Asian violence and her experience as an Asian elder. On her 84th birthday last year, she received an ICON award for her achievements.
“My poetry collaborates with the body of artwork I created for 40 years.” ~ Flo Oy Wong
POETRY BY FLO OY WONG
Pools of Red Gunshots pierce the air, then erupts in bodies of six Asian women. One by one, they screech their unforeseen terror in land of GUNS. Pools of red. Puddle the floor. White gunman executes the women because of his sex addiction. Why didn't the killer shoot himself? A captain of the county's sheriff department speaks after the tragedy. He says, "He had a really bad day and this is what he did." What he did? What he did? Shooting Asian women is now okay when someone has a bad day? These SISTERS in my homeland, united states of lower case america, are massacred in OPEN SEASON in which Asians, especially women, Elder Women, are now attacked. I AM 83. ASIAN AMERICAN WOMAN. NOT SAFE. Flo Oy Wong March 23-30, 2021 May 21, 2021
It is 2021 It is 2021. During the Covid 19 pandemic, an explosive time of rising anti-Asian violence in america, Asians are attacked and killed. This land is your land and this land is my land From California to the New York island, In Oakland Chinatown a 91 year old man is violently shoved shoved to the ground from behind. A few minutes later, the attacker then pushes a 60 year old man and a 55 year old woman onto the sidewalk. From the redwood forest To the Gulf Stream waters This land was made for you and me. In New York, a 65 year old Asian woman, battered by a man on the street, collapses in front of an apartment building. The perpetrator, a man who killed his mother in 2002, stomps on the 65 year old woman repeatedly. Doormen shut the door to the apartment building. They do nothing to stop the stomper. As I went walking that ribbon of highway I saw above me that endless skyway, saw below me that golden valley, This land was made for you and me. In Atlanta, six Asian women are shot by a white man who could not control his sex addiction. Blood flowing from the women's lifeless bodies flood the spa floor. I roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps to the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts, All around me a voice was sounding This land was made for you and me. It is 2021. The words in italics are written by Woody Guthrie, America singer and songwriter. His song, 'This Land is My Land' was written in 1940, is one of America's famous folk songs. Flo Oy Wong, 2021
Hometown Racist She crosses the street When the signal turns green. She reaches the protestors with signs held high. Her face is red. Her head and neck sink into her body. "Speak English," she yells. "Go back to your country." It is the day of the new president. Flo Oy Wong January 21, 2017
“The Elder Asianwoman Et Al” At the Millbrae Caltrain station, the elder Asianwoman and man, her husband, both in their eighth decades of life, settle on a vacant stone bench following a thriving day in the city. The husband feels his right hip padlocking from the day’s adventuresome walking. He rises to climb the stairs to the second floor toilet. The Elder Asianwoman Et Al Sitting on a cold stone bench, the elder Asianwoman suddenly sees the back of a tall man. She sniffs. Fetid odors. He is wrapped in a food-smeared blanket, his hair resembling a bird’s nest. He spins around swiftly, bending to the elder Asianwoman’s seated height, which allows his green eyes to dart over her body. She swings around, hastily disrupting his intense stare. The Elder Asianwoman Et Al At that precise moment, she sees the tips of sneakers a younger friend wore. Who is walking towards her? Could she look up? The man and his wife had recently dropped the elders off. They had stayed behind in secrecy, diligently watching their departing friends from afar. The Elder Asianwoman Et Al At the sight of the disheveled intruder, the younger man, a martial artist, bolts from his car. Standing by the elder Asianwoman, he scowls. Husband returns. The intruder slinksaway. The Elder Asianwoman Et Al Flo Oy Wong October 26, 2021 October 27, 2021 October 28, 2021 This poem is dedicated to Andi and Young Wong.
“Using my cane again” Almost eight years ago I started using a cane because I was diagnosed with chronic pane, which hindered my walking, but not my talking. Now eight years later, I use my cane again. My left knee buckled I did not chuckle when I became aware of the pain that hindered me - how unfair. So, I hear the heavy thump thump thump thump and try not to bump my limited mobility In slowing capacity for sure now I can’t jump because of the lump of pain that wants to stain my factious mendacity. Flo Oy Wong August 31, 2022
“I Look in the Mirror” I look in the mirror to say, “I celebrate my inner and outer beauty.” I look in the mirror to see lesions browning on my yellow face, a legacy of hereditary reality uninvited marks marking me as a human over sixty. I look in the mirror to see a growing forest of bruise-like colors painting my countenance from a palette I do not choose nor do I want. I look in the mirror to decide that I will have the lesions experience the procedure of hyfrecation that flattens or take away my injured tissue known as contusion. I definitely am not in confusion. I look in the mirror to feel a tad of stinging, not the weighty pain the technician said I would experience after she sprayed liquid nitrogen to rough dance with my discomfort. I look in the mirror at home to enjoy the moistened luke-warm face cloth wiping away dirt that clustered without invitation, the dirt not visible at all. I look in the mirror to know that this choice I made to erase my lesions would bring me back to my swelling heart within because I know that generations of my tribe shares this derma lesson with me then and now. Flo Oy Wong September 1, 2022