Asians are the New Jews
7 min. performance at centrum, 30. May 2015 at 7pm
Body|Language: Wrestling with Gestures and Words
“Asians are the new Jews” is a phrase that appeared in print in 2006, in a book called The Price of Admission by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Daniel Golden.
RHEE, who is well known for her work that confronts the issue of Otherness, has been working on the concept of racial triangulation, specifically how Asians have been racialized in relationship to Blacks and Blackness. In this new work, she engages her relationship to Jews and investigates the idea of “Jewishness” insofar as both minority groups have been discriminated against in modern history for being “model minorities” and overrepresented in the echelons of higher education in the United States. In the 1920s Jews were discriminated against from Universities with racist quotas, a concealed activity that is currently happening to Asian-Americans.
Like her other work, this performance is highly transnational in nature, gathering reference material in her land of citizenship (USA) and her land of residency (Germany), resulting in an aggregate work about cultural identity that can only be understood through a complex lens of feminism, globalization, cultural studies, and Diaspora.
In Asians are the New Jews, she engages with the Shakespearean monologue of Shylock from the play, The Merchant of Venice. Certainly Shakespeare’s outsider depiction of Shylock, as the Other, has cast a shadow on the very nature of what it means to be a modern Jew. Chances are high that Shakespeare had no first hand experience with Jews and probably never met a Jewish person in his life. How does the historical treatment and perception of Jews relate to Asians, as they grapple with stereotyping and disenfranchisement as the mythical model minority? In this work, with many complex cultural references including ethnic intellectual stereotypes to anti-Semitic scapegoating, RHEE attempts to audition for the role of Shylock for an international German speaking audience, embodying the very first European Other. The performance is fundamentally about perceptions of Otherness and the loss of self in order to integrate into the majority culture (Europe/Germany). RHEE points to Shylock’s ultimate fate, where he loses his religion, cultural freedom and ethnic dignity. In his loss of the trial, he converts to Christianity and becomes “integrated” and “saved.”
Certainly, the treatment of the Jews by Nazi Germany, was the extremest form of discrimination – genocide. With a near glaring absence (compared to New York) of European Jewish awareness culture in Berlin, the artist became disturbed and fascinated with the similarities of Yiddish and German. No German language school she experienced had ever made any mention to any shared linguist roots. The Yiddish monologue RHEE learned is one from the Daytschmerisch tradition, a linguistic phenomenon that purposely uses German words, expressions, and other linguistic elements that seemed to become a part of the high literary language, to the dismay of some Yiddish speaking Jews.
The artist would like to recognize her time spent researching and developing the first part of the project at the Center for Jewish History in New York City. Special thanks to librarian JD Arden, scholar Irad Ben Isaak, and artist Shiri Lanton for intellectual support and conversation. And a shout out to the team at centrum, Yvonne Scheja, Marieke Spendel and Natalie Weiland for all their kind support.