"Ask your ma about '89. I can’t say why, but she held me, crying, as I brought back your uncle to the front gates of the university."
The show takes its name from a conversation I had with an old friend of my mother's, his name was Mr. Ma. We sat down at a restaurant in China as he told me stories from his time at graduate school in Beijing, where he studied with both my parents during the 80s. That’s when he brought up the incident in 1989. It took me a while to process what he was saying as I was mentally juggling the conversation in Mandarin. But then I knew exactly what he was talking about, and those words clung to me as a reminder that trauma, memories, and pivotal experiences in one's life will always find a way to manifest themselves across generations.
In actuality, I have asked my mom about 1989 before. That was the year of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the student protest that ended in devastation and changed the political and cultural landscape of an entire generation. My mom mentioned this story to me when I asked her about the protest. Her younger brother was out in the streets when the government began the violent crackdown. She had no idea where he was. She didn’t continue to explain any further, but years later I would be sitting across from Mr. Ma hearing the same story from his perspective. He was the one who found my uncle and brought him back to my mom unharmed. What always struck me was how both my mom and Mr. Ma would recall these memories while brushing it off with a smile, casually speaking of it as if it was just something that happened. Part of me wants to unravel what kind of impact that time in their life amounted to, but we don’t speak of trauma. We continue forward, brushing it off with a smile. This is our relationship. However, I’ve come to accept it. I sit and listen, take in what I can, and acknowledge that I will never get the full picture. I lean into the cultural distances experienced inside a diaspora, and how much it takes to regain those. Perhaps these paintings too are a moment of sitting and listening. Not quite inserting myself asking for more and more clarity, but instead embracing the messiness that comes with the yearning desire to understand one's inherited histories.