Speaker uses art to share pain
By Lezlie Wolff - Staff Reporter
Anida Yoeu Ali turns genocide into art. Not because she likes it, but because she lived it.
Performance artist and University of Washington Aritist-in-Residence Ali presented Generation Return: The Art and Justice of Anida Yoeu Ali during Martin Luther King Week at Highline on Jan. 19.
As a survivor of the Khmer Rouge's genocidal regime, Ali told the audience she is dedicated to speaking out "against war, genocide and any wrongdoing."
Ali has one family photo. It was taken in the refugee camp her family was in.
Barbed wire is what Ali remembers of the camps. Images of barb wire moved over the projection screen behind Ali while she kept the audience focused on her spoken word piece. The wire image became a barbed spider's web frame surrounding individuals faces in Ali's family photo, the wire web moving from one face to the next.
She told of how her father, targeted by the Khmer Rouge, made it a game carrying her piggyback as he ran through the Cambodian forest to a helicopter providing an escape from Cambodia.
Ultimately, through family connections, Ali's family were relocated to Chicago.
"We didn't choose to leave," she said. "The leaving chose us."
Ali said her art projects began with words on a page and have evolved into expressions to inspire critical thought and engagement as a foil to the "flattening" of human thinking.
Ali held the diverse audience of student and faculty rapt for an hour and a half, through a class break, in the capacity-filled Building 7 Lecture Hall. Her frequent hand gestures helped to illustrate her words like a Cambodian dancer.
She used juxtaposition, complexities and contradictions in her work to encourage critical thinking and dialogue to counter what "makes us dumb," Ali said.
She spoke of the "burden of not belonging" until she was able to express herself in poetry. From there, her art and performance grew.
"Always my search is for beauty and truth," Ali said.
As a Muslim, she works to "counter the stereotypes" of Muslims, Ali said.
Ali participated in several collaborative groups until she discovered "It is easier by myself," she said.
Ali grew up in Chicago and later accepted a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Cambodia. She now teaches at the University of Washington Bothell.
A student in the audience asked her how to begin expressing one's art.
"You get it out, picking up a pen and writing," she replied. "All it takes is that first step."
"You have to be brave enough to take that first step. You really have to believe in what you do and you have to do it with integrity."