Driven by a need to explore family memories and identity, at the age of 40 South Bay resident Flo Oy Wong decided to embark on a path of artistic creation that has resulted, 25 years later, in a body of provocative artwork that illustrates the rich yet painful history of Asian Americans. Spark follows Wong down the collective memory lane of the Asian American experience.
Born in 1938, Wong was raised in Oakland’s Chinatown, where her family owned a variety of businesses (grocery store, a Chinese lottery and two restaurants) from the 1940s through the 1960s. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, and California State University Hayward, Wong began a teaching career. However, in her late 30s Wong decided to pursue her passion for art and enrolled in community college art classes, where she started to explore gender, racial and cultural issues. Since then, Wong has become widely recognized for her mixed media installations.
Her project “made in usa: Angel Island Shhh,” is a three-year oral history-based project that explores the false identities that many Chinese immigrants were forced to adopt when detained and interrogated in the United States. The installation uses rice-sacks embellished with text, beads, sequins and American flags in order to narrate the stories of Chinese immigrants, including Wong’s own parents, who assumed false identities in order to enter the country following the creation of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.
In another work, entitled “Kindred Spirit,” Wong relates the plight of Wen Ho Lee, the Chinese American scientist who was wrongly accused of passing nuclear secrets to China in the 1990s and subsequently jailed. By using certain foodstuffs that Lee was denied during his 278-day incarceration, Wong portrays Lee not as a scientist, but rather, as a father who was taken away from his home and family.
Spark also visits Wong as she works on her latest project, “1942: Luggage From Home to Camp,” a collaboration with the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. Wong’s homage to the internment of Japanese Americans consists of a re-created internment camp barracks filled with suitcases containing personal items and photos of six Japanese Americans who were detained during World War II.
Wong is co-founder of the Asian American Women Artists Association and has exhibited at various venues around the country, including the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, the Oakland Museum of California and the Smithsonian Institution.
Meet three artists who explore questions of history, time and memory with their art.
The Influence of Memory
Get into the heads of artists who are deeply influenced by memories.