OMNES : The Journal of multicultural society

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OMNES: The Journal of Multicultural Society - Vol. 10 , No. 1

[ Article ]
OMNES: The Journal of Multicultural Society - Vol. 9, No. 1, pp.34-58
ISSN: 2093-5498 (Print)
Print publication date 31 Jan 2019
Received 31 Oct 2018 Revised 14 Dec 2018 Accepted 21 Dec 2018

Anicka Yi’s Ironic Scheme of Art
Soyi Kim
University of Minnesota, USA


A New York-based Korean American artist, Anicka Yi, parallels the language of pathogens with patriarchal fear of feminism expressed through excessive hygiene, by growing female bacteria that she swabbed from women in her personal and professional networks and letting the microbes emanate a pungent smell in the gallery space. Her contagious and malodorous biological materials proliferate in and colonize the audience’s body as well as the air of the gallery space. In so doing, they mount a challenge to anthropocentrism and the masculine set of cybernetic art practices popularized from the 1960s in the U.S. according to art historian Caroline Jones. However, Yi’s work’s critical affiliation to her identity as a Korean American woman artist doesn’t necessarily fit in the western feminist art history. It rather poses an ethnic irony in John Kim’s term: The impossibility of reading Yi’s work in isolation from her ethnic background combined with the equal impossibility of reducing the one to the other. Yi’s purposeful opting-out of direct references to her own and other Asian women’s life narratives ironically underpins her gesturing toward attesting to the continuity of particular life forms that survive through erasure, objectification, and essentialization, in western hegemonic representation.

Keywords: Anicka Yi, contagiousness, ethnic irony, olfactory art, postcolonial feminism

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Biographical Note

Soyi Kim is a Ph.D. Candidate in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature program at the University of Minnesota, U.S., minoring in Art History. Her research areas include postcolonial feminism, contemporary art history, and new media studies. E-mail: