Volume 75, Number 31 | December 21 - 27, 2005


“Shhh: It’s a Secret!”
Works by Flo Oy Wong
Through January 19, 2006
Flomenhaft Gallery
547 West 27th Street
(212-268-4952; flomenhaftgallery.com)

Courtesy Flomenhaft Gallery

Flo Oy Wong tells her family’s story through suitcase collages like “My Mother’s Baggage: Paper Sister, Pg 3” (1997).

An exhibit with a ton of baggage

By Laura Silver

“I save things,” says, Flo Oy Wong, whose solo show, “Shhh: It’s a Secret!” now at Flomenhaft Gallery, includes vintage suitcases, sequin-embroidered rice sacks and a long table set with bowls and teacups. The Sunnyvale, Calfornia-based artist pulls back the curtains on centuries of immigration history and examines its impact on her clan.

A series of luggage is an open book of her family’s story. In “My Mother’s Baggage: Paper Sister Pages 1 – 3”(1997), magazine text, photographs and suitcases tell the story of her mother and China-born sisters’s arrival at Angel Island, CA, in 1933. Leather straps designed to cinch contents of this ancient valise dangle next to its well-worn handle.

Wong is intent on letting stories hang out.

A 1960s suitcase used on her honeymoon houses a collaged, ransom note-like narrative that provides clues to the family’s hidden past: “When my mother arrived, she came not as my father’s wife but as his sister and aunt to my sisters. Why? Because the 1882 Chinese exclusion law and the 1924 National Origins Act forbade the entry of Chinese wives of United States citizens.”

Wong is also interested in inspecting baggage from modern-day domestic flights.

“Kindred Spirit #2”(2002) is one in a series of fabric scrolls that comment on military secrets and racial profiling. Wong purposely avoided traditional motifs. “I didn’t want flowing waters or a man on the mountain meditating,” she says of her portrayal of “horrendous story of Wen Ho Lee,” a Taiwainese-born American citizen and nuclear scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. An investigation codenamed Operation Kindred Spirit falsely accused Lee of transferring secrets to the Chinese government; he was held in solitary confinement from December 1999 to September 2000.

“For 278 days, no one tended to the garden,” says Wong about the backyard garden Lee tended. She “gives it back to him” as a swath of floral-patterned silk brocade. It accompanies his story, told in stitched roman letters designed to be read top to bottom, right to left. Red outlines call attention to W88, the nuclear program Lee was accused of spying on and 58, his age at the time of imprisonment,

Themes of sustenance and survival unmask secrets throughout Wong’s works.

“Dinner Table 2”(2005) features nine bowls on a tablecloth of beaded, rice-sack fabric. Each bowl of uncooked rice is garnished with a spoon-sized portrait of a family member —the chopsticks planted upright at the parents’ settings symbolize their absence.

In other works, filled sacks of white enriched rice are embroidered with beads and sequins in individual tributes to Wong’s siblings or herself. Only the Nutrition Facts panel remains unchanged, a reminder that Wong’s work far exceeds our daily, recommended allowances for intellectual and artistic stimulation.

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