Bild: From the serial „Who is Mai Ling?” (Performance, public intervention | 2019 ) © Mai Ling
In dieser Interviewreihe stellen wir euch kurz (post)migrantische Selbstorganisationen vor, mit denen uns politische Arbeitsansätze, Inhalte und Ziele verbinden. Wir haben festgestellt, dass die verschiedenen lokalen Netzwerke und Initiativen oftmals nichts voneinander wissen. Diese Reihe ist ein kleiner Beitrag zur Sichtbarmachung der (post)migrantischen Vielfalt. Je nach Sprachpräferenzen der Interviewpartner*innen werden die Interviews auf Deutsch oder Englisch durchgeführt. Wir freuen uns, euch dieses Mal das Kollektiv Mai Ling aus Wien vorzustellen.
1. How and why did you start the Mai Ling Collective? Which inspiration keeps you going?
Mai Ling 1: The founding of the association MAI LING began with the idea and eagerness to exchange with Asian migrants living in Vienna. Many female Asians were expressing their difficulties living in Austria — that was often a matter of survival. Although all migrants face racism in their day-to-day lives, Asian women also experience sexism. The combination of racism and sexism made it harder for us to live here.
Last year, I wanted to interview Asian migrants about their lives so I asked Mika, a friend and member of Mai Ling, if she was interested in organising a meeting with all Asian artists that she knew of and were living here. Before the meeting, we didn’t have in mind that we would find an association and artist collective, however, after our first meeting, we realised the necessity of formalising our commitment to regularly gather and exchange. From then onwards, we founded Mai Ling, an artist collective and association with the focus on Asian women living in Austria.
The artist collective aimed to make our existence visible by fostering the recognition of our voices. As I mentioned before, Asian, female and LGBTQ communities face an intersectional layer of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of prejudices in their daily lives. Unfortunately the knowledge about us is insufficient and is often represented through white lenses. For this reason, the conditions, narratives, challenges and embodied experiences are not taken into consideration. This is because structurally, we are excluded from the mainstream discourse and we lack platforms for representation. My biggest motivation for working as a member of Mai Ling is to find an outlet for my anger and frustrations when it comes to day-to-day racism and sexism.
Mai Ling 2: When we first founded Mai Ling, we had our first public event <Who is Mai Ling?>, during which we dealt with the character Mai Ling as no one knew who she was — she is me, she is us, but also not. My name isn’t Mai Ling. The crossing of identities and the self-denial of Mai Ling inspired us and the way we worked as diverse artists and researchers in the cultural scene.
Many of us were seriously aware of the challenges living as an Asian woman in Europe. We knew from our experiences that the voice of one person is often forgotten and that is why we chose to use the complex figure Mai Ling. She is a figure whose identity is constantly in flux and being redefined.
2. How would you translate/transfer the „speaking“ or „talking back“ of Mai Ling into your everyday life?
Mai Ling 1: After I started to work as Mai Ling, I stopped personalising the racist/sexist experiences I had as I knew it happened to Asian females in one form or another. We had created a space where we felt safe and understood. At the same time, I felt a sense of kinship with Asians and we wanted to show our solidarity with each other.
Mai Ling 2: Mai Ling is the name of our artist collective/association and naturally, all our artworks are signed under this name. We decided to do this because Mai Ling in Gerhard Polt’s sketch symbolised a figure that crossed over various Asian countries and thus cultural stereotypes. As a group with members from different East Asian countries, we wanted to reclaim the figure of Mai Ling and give her our own voice.
The anonymity of Mai Ling also lends us certain power to be radical and, at the same time, we can hide behind a figure whose identity is constantly being redefined. With many members of Mai Ling being first generation migrants, anonymity also acts as a form of protection so that our activistic work does not clash with existing bureaucratic challenges.
3. How did your life change since the corona-virus media debates started?
Mai Ling 1: My first language is neither German nor English and, for this reason, I received relatively scarce information about the Covid-19 developments. But I am already experiencing the effects of the Covid-19 media debates. Although there is racism and sexism in my daily life in Vienna, I never had to be afraid to go outside. Since Covid-19, I preferred to not go outside, not because of the fear of infection, but rather, the reactions from strangers whenever they saw me.
Mai Ling 2: My daily life didn’t dramatically change since Covid-19. There was already racism and prejudice towards Asian people before this crisis. However, Covid-19 media debates made racism more visible and we witnessed more hate speeches towards Asian people. It felt like a social threat.
Mai Ling 3: I became hyper-sensitised to my surroundings and especially towards the “white gaze”. Although the gaze is something I experienced already before Covid-19, this time it was more severe and it also escalated into looks of disgust. Different forms of microaggressions escalated and it is exhausting to have to go about our daily lives with the alertness in mind that we might be racially attacked for looking “Asian”.
It is also exhausting to see ourselves through the eyes of others. My identity is constantly being questioned and defined by the people around me. Living in Europe stripped me from my ability to just be me, because I was constantly being defined by those around me and the way those chose to see me.
4. Do you have any new upcoming projects you would like to tell korientation & friends about?
Mai Ling 1: A cooking project with Migrant Kitchen in Vienna and we will show our audio and video works in the Fluctoplasma festival in October. Next year, we plan to have an exhibition in VBKÖ.
Mai Ling 2: I am looking forward to the exhibition that we are going to organize next year. The exhibition was planned for February 2021, but that will probably be postponed. We will work both as an artist and as a curator. I am very excited and curious about how this exhibition will turn out and show our perspectives as Mai Ling.
More about MAI LING: https://www.mai-ling.org/