ArtSEA: A Buddhist bug crawls through Seattle Asian Art Museum

Plus, Black History Month shows, Lunar New Year events, fresh plays on stage and an intergalactic film festival.

photo of a busy cambodian street with an woman in an orange tube riding a bike

“Around Town,” from Anida Yoeu Ali’s performance art series ‘The Buddhist Bug.’ (Photo: Masahiro Sugano © Studio Revolt)

I love hearing artistic origin stories — especially when they reveal a simple moment that made all the difference. Cambodia-born and Tacoma-based artist Anida Yoeu Ali recently shared her own at the press preview for her new show Hybrid Skin, Mythical Presence (through July 7 at Seattle Asian Art Museum).

“I dreamed of being an artist since I was 9 years old,” Ali said. That’s when she earned an award in a coloring book contest at her local McDonald’s. “Not even first place!” she added, with a laugh. The prize was a pair of adult-sized socks adorned with the golden arches. But “that’s all it took,” she said. The recognition of her creative skills set her on the path to becoming an artist. 

Since then, Ali has been coloring outside the lines. Her approach is embodied by a notable feature of the museum installation: a bright orange, 328-foot-long fabric tube that crawls through the galleries, suspended by a gazillion clear wires. 

This is “The Buddhist Bug,” which Ali created and has donned for public performances in 10 countries (watch for a Seattle performance on March 23). At the head, Ali’s face peeks out; at the tail — impossibly far away — two human legs and feet emerge, twist and tap. The bug shows up on busy streets and spiral staircases, cafeterias and school classrooms.

At Seattle Asian Art Museum, Anida Yoeu Ali’s “Buddhist Bug” stretches and twists through the galleries. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

The spectacle is funny and absurd, disconcerting and slightly sci-fi. It’s also symbolic. The orange is the color of robes worn by Buddhist monks; the tight opening out of which Ali’s face emerges — usually in a deadpan stare — resembles a hijab. Her own family is Muslim, an ethnic minority in their homeland of Cambodia, where she says Buddhism is overwhelmingly present.

By placing herself inside a giant tubular costume in everyday public settings, Ali is commenting on both the undeniable force of a majority religion, as well as her own “diasporic dilemma.” As a first-generation American who grew up in the U.S. after her parents arrived here as refugees, she says she experiences an insider/outsider perspective whether she is in Cambodia or the U.S. Hence, a textile creature that’s “both a bridge and a tunnel … that can shrink or expand.”

In addition to films and large-scale photos of Buddhist Bug performances, Ali is showing artifacts from “The Red Chador” performance series, in which she wears a glittering red sequined garment and walks silently through public places, surrounded by a “rainbow brigade” of similarly clad figures. Glimpse video of both projects in action, and expect a Red Chador performance on June 1.

A still from Michael Schultz’s influential 1975 film “Cooley High.” This screening and other African American-centered arts events are happening during Black History Month. (Northwest Film Forum)

It’s a leap year, with an “extra day” in February — and thank goodness, since there’s a whole lotta arts to imbibe this month. That includes an exciting roster of events linked to Black History Month

Don’t miss our list of 13 recommended shows by Black artists, including visual arts, music, dance, film and an architecture retrospective honoring one of Crosscut’s featured Black Arts Legacies artists, Benjamin McAdoo Jr. Consider that a nudge to check out the full Black Arts Legacies project: 40 artists who have made an impact on Seattle’s creative scene past and present. (This roster will keep expanding — watch for Season 3 this spring.) 

We’re also transitioning to the Year of the Dragon this month, according to several Asian calendars. So pick up the latest Lunar New Year stamp from USPS (designed by artist Camille Chew) and watch for signs of the dragon: strength, luck and ambition. You can start embracing those traits at one of the many Lunar New Year celebrations — think lion dances, craft making and traditional foods — happening around Seattle, including at:

Little Saigon Creative (Tět celebrations Feb. 2-4)
Wing Luke Museum (Feb. 3, 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.)
Bellevue Square (Feb. 3, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.)
Bellevue Arts Museum (Feb. 11, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.)
Chinatown-International District (including a Bruce Lee costume parade, Feb. 24)

Nathaniel Tenenbaum (left) and Conner Neddersen star in Samuel D. Hunter’s “A Case for the Existence of God” at ACT Theatre. (Rosemary Dai Ross)

Seattle’s theater scene is starting February strong with a slew of promising new and newish plays.

A Case for the Existence of God at ACT Theatre (Feb. 2 - 18). The setting is an office cubicle and the topic is ostensibly the terms of a mortgage, but the two characters in conversation dive much deeper in this award-winning 2022 play by Samuel D. Hunter (MacArthur “Genius” and writer of The Whale). Starring talented local actors Nathaniel Tenenbaum and Conner Neddersen (directed by John Langs), this talk between alleged opposites reveals common fears induced by financial insecurity, parenting and a shared “specific kind of sadness.”

Born with Teeth at ArtsWest (Feb. 1 - 25). In this award-winning 2022 play by Liz Duffy Adams, two 27-year-old poets meet at a pub to co-write a series of history plays — and contend with each other’s egos in the process. The writers in question are Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare (played by UW theater grads Michael Monicatti and Ricky Spaulding), which makes for quick, witty banter amid the looming threats of plague and political censorship.

Once More Just for You at Seattle Public Theater (Feb. 2 - 25). Two acclaimed locals — playwright Maggie Lee and director Amy Poisson — present a tale of time travel gone wrong (doesn’t it always?). But perhaps it works better if you aren’t trying to kill off Hitler, you’re just trying to fix a small mistake of your own. An eccentric scientist with a homemade time machine in her basement aims to find out in this world premiere. 

And one last recommendation this week, for the younger arts viewer.

The 19th annual Children’s Film Festival Seattle (Feb. 2 - 10) blasts off at Northwest Film Forum tomorrow with an opening-night screening of Wall-E (Feb. 2 at the Pacific Science Center’s IMAX Theater). 

Included this year in the always-delightful lineup is an Out of This World collection of space-themed short films (one of which warns parents that its content contains “mild peril”). More shorts themes include “Warm and Fuzzy,” “Myths and Legends” and “Black Is Beautiful.” Plus workshops in Foley sound effects, stop-motion animation, shadow puppetry and silk screening. You never know what might spark a young participant to step onto the path of becoming an artist. 

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