“Blue (American Dream),” a music video directed by filmmaker Jasdeep Kang, opens with a woman (Tia Cabral, better known by her stage name, SPELLLING) leaning on the back of a dancer, eyes closed and neck extended to catch the last waning wisps of afternoon light. The characters remain motionless as the camera’s slow, leftward pan highlights the faint glimmer of an Oakland warehouse’s corrugated steel wall — a shine outdone by the sharp sparkle of Cabral’s metallic gold dress further down the frame. Transforming the drab industrial setting into an ethereal, dream-like space is an iridescent lens flare, instantly setting the tone for the remainder of the surreal video in its first two seconds.
Released in late June, the four-minute long collaboration with up-and-coming Berkeley songwriter Cabral is the most recent installment of Kang’s visual work. The music video addresses and criticizes the notion of the American Dream achievable by the immigrant body. It brims with dramatic cinematography, meticulous attention to detail, and a profound interrogation of cultural identity — facets of Kang’s style that have grown to characterize her films with collaborators in the Bay Area.
“One of the biggest things that inspires my work is the concept of identity,” Kang shares. “I look for people who speak truth, [regardless of] whether it’s about identity, spirituality, or decolonization. The people that I’ve worked with so far — I think that they address their identity in a very present way. They’re very open about their ancestral roots… but want to redefine identity in the space that we live in now [while] also addressing how they’re represented in various degrees.”
Kang’s collaborations are few but mighty, perhaps due to the care with which the filmmaker decides her projects. In the last year, she’s collaborated extensively with ONX, an artistic collective that focuses on the black experience. Kang shot Copper, the gorgeous, 14-minute long film on the topic of black death, which acted as the focal point of ONX’s third major release this spring. Previously, she also filmed “Azaadi: Is Freedom Is Fate,” a music video for Berkeley-based musician Kohinoorgasm which explores the intersections of hair, expression, and freedom.
For Kang, a Punjabi-Sikh American, the inclusive and celebratory energy of the East Bay played an enormous role in shaping her current cinematic style. Although Kang recalls being behind the camera for as long as she can remember, it wasn’t until she moved back to the Bay — Kang originally hails from north of Sacramento — after graduating from UC Irvine in 2014 that she truly understood her position as a woman of color behind the lens.
“I’ve been on sets where I was the only brown person, or I was the only woman — [with] no one knowing how to pronounce my name. I felt so belittled by that… [It wasn’t] until I graduated college and started working with people in the Bay that I realized how powerful of a community I could be a part of behind the camera,” she explains. “I wanted to [do] work about race, addressing my identity and spaces [I occupy] with people that didn’t understand it or didn’t understand the importance of it.” Until she came back to the Bay Area, she says, “I wasn’t able to find that.”
Since coming into her own in the local art community, Kang has grown particularly passionate about ensuring that she and her creative collaborators remain dedicated to exploring the nuances of her actual and stereotyped identity — and continuing to work in redefining those nuances through their art. She cites her own family’s history and immigration story as primary sources of inspiration in her work.
“I’ve seen my parents reclaim their identity, and I’ve seen my grandparents reclaim theirs, because both generations have gone through their own genocides and have been displaced. The history of [my family] even being in this country alone has always made them challenge their identities. And, therefore, it’s forced me to challenge my own and every single space that I’ve been in.”
The solution to some of that cultural displacement, as it appears in Kang’s films, is the creation of an imaginary dream space — one that Kang has ultimately found possible to construct through the support of her diverse collaborators in the Bay. Although the filmmaker has recently moved to New York to pursue various freelancing opportunities, she has numerous long-term projects — like video and film installations — she’ll return to complete in the coming months.
Regardless of where Kang might be, however, she hopes to continue encouraging artists, no matter how established or how fledging, to take up space in areas they feel they aren’t allowed to.
“I’m trying to dream up spaces so people can fill them in, in real life,” she says. “That’s it honestly. That’s what really inspires the motion and my work.”
For more from Jasdeep Kang, see the artist’s site.