The objectification of “exotic” Asian female bodies, the perception and treatment of gendered and racialized bodies in Western society, and the historical-ethnographic background of the “European gaze” cast upon what is considered as “Far East culture” ─ these are the themes explored by Mai Ling, a Vienna-based association and artist collective.
Founded in 2019, Mai Ling offers a platform to share and exchange experiences of racism, sexism, homophobia, and prejudices toward one’s difference, especially against Asian womxn bodies.
The name “Mai Ling” refers to a fictional figure invented by Gerhard Polt, a famous German comedian, in 1979. Featured here in the video manifesto The Beautiful Alien Girl by the collective, she embodies a submissive hybrid and fantasised stereotype of Asian women, who has been silenced and made invisible in the collective European imagination ─ she was bought in Bangkok, wears a kimono and cooks Chinese food. She does not speak for herself; instead, all information about her is given by Gerhard Polt, her Bavarian husband. Her objecthood is made apparent by his likening her docile, pleasant qualities to those of his pet dog.
Even though this old satirical portraiture included in the video manifesto only offers a starting point, Polt’s normalization of the girl’s objecthood back in 1979 does not lose its relevance, as the same stereotypes and clichés are still pervasive today in contemporary culture.
Artist collective Mai Ling re-narrates and re-portrays the once silenced “Mai Ling” with collective voices and multi-layered identities, in an effort to finally reclaim her speech.
This first international solo exhibition of the collective showcases the sheer diversity of its artistic and activist projects while generating dialogues with the museum’s space and rich collection, as well as incorporating voices from French context.