Once upon a biased time, the intolerant world Anida Yoeu Ali lived in revolved around performance poetry. Or poetry performed by a young but powerful Asian American female voice. Of brash words, rightly so, that when spoken cajole, accuse, incite or inspire, revere, love, to say the least or rather the most really about a plethora of social and political woes. And there she was, a portrait of a Cambodian Muslim refugee as a spoken word artist if you will fighting a verbal war against the racist neoconservative times when paradoxically rap rhythms abounded and hip-hop attitudes held sway. Even her audience back then knew Anida under a collective identity, another surname.
Fast forward to now. And the many untold stories told by words that move and shape a body of work, literally her body from another time, displaced by not one, but often many tongues spoken in defense of an undying faith in community poetically remain.
Anida Yoeu Ali as performance artist and activist remembers. Carrying an onerous weight from which she cries out, her oppressed voice still flings words in outrage. To affect change, to right wrongs, to make the world itself an equitable and magnanimous place to live for all is what she believes as Khmer Rouge survivor who becomes a Woman Warrior.
This, of course, is her natural calling. To use so many words, that is. But deep down, she knew or rather came to realize how text whether spoken or written becomes fragile. It is after all internalized, a hermetic record that resides on paper as line, something two-dimensional or within time as sound faded.
So why does she then sacrifice these words? True to her artistic instincts, Anida sought another direction from or through action to reinvent another language of her physical self that gave body to text as static and moving image beyond calligraphic or ideographic form. She understood the contextual nature of how wielding words on stage related to time-based movement in terms of performance and sculpture as methodology.
Now Anida Yoeu Ali continues to speak not only in volume, but mass and space as well as time. For her, the three-dimensionality of her body gives her text another structure, a living surface that follows many varied and generalized functions, all of which reference specific issues concerning gender, sexuality and identity that also broadly reflect the politics of representation. Which then also allows her the conceptual framework to incorporate a larger history that connects who she is to specific memories associated with self and place healing her mind, body and soul. In a way her work transcends into a deeper body politic investigating surface (flesh), space (figure) and time (memory) as exterior and interior material in addition to performative object in response to the past, present and future that shapes her political and spiritual being.
In other words, Anida Yoeu Ali is willing to change the world beginning with herself. Such courage is always to be admired, applauded and cherished. Because to remember is not to forget.