Longing for Belonging
“There is an old saying that once you leave home you could be anywhere…
Once you leave home, everywhere can be home.
Once you leave home, everywhere can be un/home.
Once you leave home, movement may become home.”
For a long time, when asked the question “Where are you from?” I experience mixed emotions. It brings up more questions, what is my identity, where is my “home”, and which version of the answer I should share. Sometimes, I ask myself that question too and I do not have an answer. I am physically distanced from my country of origin and feel emotionally separated from the country I reside in. There is a dynamic tension of living here and remembering there; between the metaphorical and physical home. Drawing inspiration from past and current homes, a version of home is created that pairs representational objects, mixing American vernacular and childhood memories from Hong Kong. This body of work represents the emotions associated with the desire for “home” and the Longing for Belonging.
My work explores the process of acculturation through socio-cultural and psychological adjustments of bicultural Asian immigrants. Framed within the context of cultural influence and familial relationships, I look at how immigrants change their behaviors, beliefs, and values towards themselves and others to analyze how identities are formed and negotiated. This negotiation of identities conflicts between accepting the new culture while upholding traditional values; a conflation of identities that leads to confusion and a sense of disassociation where one feels like a stranger to themselves.
Through paper, textile, and ceramics, I form spaces and narratives, sharing my experiences with the paradoxes of my shifting identities. I developed a lexicon of symbols to represent recurrent themes explored within this struggle of balancing identities. The paper crane, long arms, and body of water symbolize various themes: the idea of immigrant success and dreams, family and personal expectations, connecting spaces to lands, or flexibility to adapt to changing environments. These symbols have universal shared meanings and a layer of added meaning unique to those who share these bicultural experiences.
Relying on nostalgia as a coping strategy to reconcile my bicultural identity, my recent work focuses on memories. Specifically, past memories that have defined my present, memories that establish a connection between my identity with cultural objects, and physical spaces that I associate with family. Exploring emotions and experiences surrounding isolation, separation, and absentness affected by changes in the environment, I recreate scenes that juxtapose between tangible and intangible memories that postulate the happenings between “then” and “now”. By reconnecting with my past and presenting a current view, I invite viewers to a conversation on memories, reflection, and what happens “in-between”.
Mei Lam So was born and raised in Hong Kong and is currently based in Iowa City as a prospective 2022 MFA Candidate at the University of Iowa. She explores issues and experiences surrounding the acculturation process, the socio-cultural and psychological adjustments of bicultural Asian immigrants. So’s work focuses on the integration and disintegration of identity, where she habitually navigates and rediscovers her place and identity amongst two different lifestyles and cultures. Through printmaking, textile, and ceramic sculptures, So creates spaces and narratives sharing her journey in navigating these conflicts and the overall changes in her environment.