Kenneth Tam: Silent Spikes
May 14, 2022 – March 12, 2023
Silent Spikes is an exhibition by artist Kenneth Tam that investigates the intersections of masculinity, race, and labor. Featuring a two-channel video installation with accompanying photographs, the show examines the performance of gender and considers the power of image production and circulation, asking who has been silenced, erased, or left out of the frame.
Tam reflects on the underrepresented relationship between histories of Westward expansion and Chinese immigration in the United States. The central video installation is composed of vignettes of a group of self-identified Asian American men inhabiting the figure of the cowboy – an archetype of white American masculinity – and engaging in intimate conversations on a hazy, dreamlike set. These scenarios are combined with references to an 1867 strike undertaken by thousands of Chinese Transcontinental Railroad workers – the largest organized labor action in United States history to that point. The video is accompanied by three black and white photographic portraits that depict Tam’s cowboys at close range and in high relief, gazing resolutely into the distance. Working with contemporary subjects to unravel popular portrayals and expectations of masculinity, Tam reimagines longstanding stereotyped representations of Asian males in media.
Interweaving past and present, expression of self and performance, Silent Spikes establishes a realm of potential where vulnerability, underrepresented histories, inherited struggles, and revised tropes present counter-narratives and offer soft, sensuous, and more expansive forms of male embodiment.
Kenneth Tam: Silent Spikes is organized by Alexis Wilkinson, Assistant Curator, MOCA Tucson.
The exhibition is supported by VIA Art Fund and Wagner Foundation; Commonwealth & Council; Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona; and MOCA Tucson’s Board of Trustees, Ambassador Council, and Members.
In-kind support provided by The Downtown Clifton Hotel.
The two-video installation Silent Spikes was originally commissioned by the Queens Museum, New York.
About the Artist:
Kenneth Tam (b. 1982, Queens, New York; lives and works in Queens) received an MFA from University of Southern California in 2010 and BFA from Cooper Union in 2004. Recent solo exhibitions have been held at Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2021); Times Square Arts, New York (2021); Queens Museum, New York (2021); Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, WI (2021); The Kitchen, New York (2020); Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York (2020); Visual Arts Center, University of Texas at Austin (2019); Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles (2019); 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica, CA (2018); Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN (2018); and MIT List Center for Visual Arts, Cambridge (2017). Selected group exhibitions have been held at The Shed, New York (2021); SculptureCenter, New York (2019); 47 Canal, New York (2018); Hollybush Gardens, London, UK (2017); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2016); and Museum of Fine Arts Houston, TX (2016). Tam is faculty at Princeton University and the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. Tam’s work is in the collections of Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota; Dallas Museum of Art, Texas; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Image Credit: Kenneth Tam, Silent Spikes (video still), 2021. Courtesy the artist and Commonwealth & Council.