Photography WELCOME TO ASIA BISTRO
Photographymacro photography

WELCOME TO ASIA BISTRO

Giorgia Massari
asia bistro | Collater.al

There is a restaurant in Berlin called Asia Bistro. It all starts here, when Vietnamese photographer Hiền Hoàng (1990) finds herself dining at this pan-Asian place that groups together various Eastern culinary specialties without making too much distinction between Thai, Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese. Reflecting on the interchangeability of Asian cultures by Westerners, Hiền gives birth to the Asia Bistro project, which, including photography, video, and performance, has been ongoing since 2019. A veritable collection of Asian stereotypes that looks specifically at food, reasoning about how it is widely accepted to the point of becoming cool, while, on the other hand, Asian immigration is instead viewed not too favorably. Even more, Hiền Hoàng reflects on the sexual aspect by highlighting the racial abuse that many Asian immigrant women in Europe – including her – are forced to endure. While the shots appear seemingly erotic and sensual, what the photographer wants to convey is precisely the sensory contrast between the attraction and repulsion inherent in the Westerner’s image of the East. On the one hand there is the Asian fetishism that often labels the woman of this ethnic group as an erotic dream, while on the other hand there emerges the repulsive aspect that easily arises from clichéd comments and phrases made about cultural customs and traditions that are sometimes nothing more than stereotypes.

Hiền Hoàng

What does it mean to “be Asian”?

Hiền Hoàng’s are strongly evocative images. The slimy matter as well as the smells seem to seep out of the shots that see body and food mingle in an ambiguous dance. The bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce is filled with a nipple, as if it were a natural fruit of the body; rice paper is wrapped around an Asian person’s tongue as it melts on contact with saliva. Or again, hard, black hairs sprout from a touch of tofu. In short, all culinary products that are widely disseminated enough to become symbols of Eastern culture are fused with the body, thus reasoning about the concept of identity that inevitably suffers external shocks. In other words, the photographer herself as a new European citizen – she lives and works in Hamburg – finds herself questioning her own identity because of a vision that is not her own and that does not belong to her. Thus, these shots sound like a provocation – sexual and critical – towards the Westerner who claims to box the East into a few limited paradigms or preconceptions driven by superficiality.

Hiền Hoàng
Hiền Hoàng

Courtesy Hiền Hoàng

Photographymacro photography
Written by Giorgia Massari
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