Kenneth Tam: Masculinity, Gender, and Race
Kenneth Tam is a New York-based artist interested in exploring masculinity and gender norms through his art. One of his latest works, Silent Spikes showcased in Queens Museum, “reimagines spaces and social customs for male bodies in order to reveal vulnerable moments that can exist among men.”
According to Tam, Silent Spikes is the name of a text that looks at the history of Chinese immigrants working at the railroad, indicating their invisibility and struggles. “The spike part was really captivating to me,” said Tam. “There is an edge to them, there is something empowering and piercing to them.”
To enter the exhibit, you must walk through a long and dark tunnel first, much like the ones Chinese immigrants had to dig while building the US Transcontinental Railroad. During the show, five Asian-American men dressed in cowboy outfits engage in a conversation. “You seem really relaxed in your own skin,” says one.
In other videos the same men, now dressed in their normal clothes, discuss in their own words what “sensuality” means to them.” They explore their own feelings and sensations throughout the video, what sensuality feels like to them.
“These scenes are juxtaposed with long, cinematic shots of a dark, rocky tunnel—light visible at the end—paired with narration in Cantonese. The laborers are speaking: about the strike of 1867, about their hunger, how their children will become citizens but they will not,” as stated by an article in The Brooklyn Rail.
The show is meant to explore and reimagine the way that Asian men perform within their gender identity. “The project looks at Asian-American masculinity, in particular the way it’s been denigrated in the West for not living up to certain hegemonic standards,” said Tam in an interview with Hyperallergic. “The figure of the cowboy acts as a kind of foil to push back against this misreading of the Asian male body, but I’m also trying to subvert and re-invest this character through their portrayal by my Asian participants.”
Many of Tam’s works center around the idea of reimagining the masculinity of Asian men in different contexts, if you want to see or learn about more of his work visit his website here.