Reflecting on Re-Integration
Curatorial Writing Fellow 2021,
Chisenhale Gallery, London
I was the second recipient of the Asymmetry Curatorial Writing Fellowship and the first with a full-time placement at Chisenhale Gallery and Delfina Foundation, with a duration from April to October 2021. One of the fellowship’s missions was to provide professional opportunities for curators in a timely response to the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the first wave of lockdown, I was directly affected and lost the physical space which housed my gallery LOA in East London, making this fellowship integral to my growth and development. Moreover, it provided me with valuable insight into the complexities of running long-term programming in the not-for-profit art sector. It has been an incredibly humbling experience altogether and the learnings and takeaways go far beyond my actual time with Asymmetry and the two partner institutions.
The culmination of my placement at Chisenhale was the inaugural issue of a cross-media publication I had proposed as fellowship project, entitled KUA 01: Re-Integration. It includes a fictional story inspired by auto-ethnographical notes and interviews I conducted, alongside artworks, research papers and news articles collated on the topic of the ‘returned migrant’ from the transnational perspective. During the six months, I worked on the publication and website with a range of collaborators, hosted three events, and assisted the team at Chisenhale with their existing and forthcoming programme.
A key lesson I have learnt is the process of continuously thinking and encouraging a sustainable way of (team) working: managing my ambition and most importantly, finding ways to manage emotional labour for both myself and the team, especially given the emotionally taxing nature of our topic. The attention on this matter also related to my contribution to the programme at Chisenhale, including the project titled ‘2.8 Million Minds’, led by artist and mental health activist James Leadbitter, and supporting a live reading event of the text ‘The Politics of Care’ (2021) by Miriam Ticktin in response to Rachel Jones’s 2022 commission.
LEARNING FROM THE COLLABORATORS
For KUA, I set out the intention of solely working with collaborators who have had lived experience of migration and are actively engaging both, or more, of their cultural backgrounds. I refer to this demography as transnational creatives.
When researching and exchanging ideas relating to the background of (cultural) minorities in the UK context, the focus on people became essential in my project. To me, people are carriers of history, both in terms of existing narrations, as well as untold perspectives. I believe that within art a more complex space around these notions could exist.
Throughout the delivery of KUA 01: Re-Integration, extensive conversations with collaborators allowed me to continue learning about transnational identities from first-hand accounts beyond research papers as well as social media collectives. Each collaborator responded to KUA with their take as a transnational creative. For example, the website designer Marwan Kaabour is a Beirut-born, London-based art director who runs an Instagram archive on queer culture within the Arabic speaking world named ‘Takweer’. The sound designer Sasha Perera is London-born and Berlin-based, born to Sri Lankan parents and actively creates social spaces for the ‘self-exiles’ within her network of musicians. The book designer Jeanne Constantin tales influence from her own shifting between Swiss and British cultures and translated this subtlety into the publication design. The now London-based Swiss copyeditor to Philippine parents, Lara Baclig worked closely with me to understand who we are writing for.
“The term ‘transnational’ was introduced to me by KUA, giving me a word to identify with (finally)” - Lara
“Being a migrant is like living with a little monster that sometimes acts towards and sometimes against your advantages.” - Marwan
“We are removed people with parallel identities.” - Sasha
THE CURATORIAL AND EDITORIAL PROCESSES
On the path to develop as a curator, I am actively reflecting on identity aesthetics within the global art market (Jérémie Molho, 2019) and the problematic concept of race and culture representation (Paul Goodwin, 2022).
I want to emphasise that the commonality in working with each creative and collaborator was that they held their practice steadfast in the essential aspect of their identity. When asked about the shifting relationship with Sri Lanka and how this may influence the music she makes, Sasha responded that music is the first and foremost important thing that she does and she’s not an activist; her practice stands on its own. Her response confirmed my suspicion that by imposing specific requirements on the lived experience for this project, it would risk ‘boxing’ or ‘othering’ transnational creatives further. As the creator of KUA, I must work carefully to avoid self-tokenising, although my intention is rooted connectivity.
Going forward, it was crucial to take a conscious effort to foreground the work created in response to the thematic issues of the publication series. One of the ways of achieving this is to spotlight their contribution outside of this project, for example, submitting Sasha’s KUA sound stamp to be featured on infrasonica: a digital platform of non-Western sonic essays and cultures.
KUA exists as my inaugural publication project and collated here are some notes I received throughout the process which I continue to reflect on and want to work towards in my future issues:
‘Lead the reader into harder texts with lighter ones.’ - Mark Rappolt
‘If you can say it with 300 words, don’t do it with 1000.’ - Editor of Mingpao Weekly
‘Provide context.’ - Zoé Whitley
‘Would it affect the outcome if this information/interview/process is not included in the publication?’ - Georgina Adam
‘Know when to stop, take breaks, because editing could be an endless process.’ - Rebbeca Morrill
THE PUBLICATION AND THE PUBLIC EVENTS
Identity Negotiation Theory by Stella Ting-Toomey, 2015.
Transnational Mobility by Anna Triandafyllidou, 2015.
Works by artists including Doug Aitken, Kengwu Yerlinkaya and Xenoangles.
Oral interviews with art therapist Jaqui, and artist and historian Kathleen Bombani.
The website and the publication led to the ongoing encouragement of audiences submitting their own Re-Integration stories to be part of the wider KUA audio archive.
At the core of the publication lies a fiction story, which aimed to replace the centering of geographical migration with speculative elements, seeking to ignite resonance with wider audiences.
The limited print run of 250 copies were distributed to curators, researchers, arts and media institutions, including Chisenhale’s trustees and Delfina Foundation and their extended international network. A physical copy is available for the visitors at Chisenhale to read as well as digitally available to all on issuu, with further copies available at Asymmetry HQ.
Three events were organised in collaboration with Chisenhale and Delfina. The first event was a creative writing workshop which welcomed public members including non-native English writers where I introduced the practice of auto-ethnography within an art context. The workshop was co-hosted with facilitator Alison Chandler who explored key structures in writing creatively and led the out-loud readings of two texts  as well as the fictional story written by myself, published in KUA. The workshop had a lasting impact on not only myself but also on participants, as expressed in various feedback:
“Hands on my heart, this workshop was more than a creative writing session. (The texts provided) I instantly felt interconnected with KUA’s emphasis on transitional experiences (…) I think the event was led by Yu’an so gracefully and I look forward to continue writing”
- Alya Kanıbelli
The publication launch event in late May 2021 consisted of a round table discussion with myself and some main collaborators and was warmly introduced by Chisenhale's Director Zoé Whitley. The video recording can be viewed here.
“Producing the sold-out and timely book launch which exceeded studio space capacity, Yu’an can be proud of having realised edition 01 of KUA during her fellowship.”
- Zoé Whitley
The final event was a celebratory ‘family lunch’ at Delfina where a carefully selected list of sixteen guests; all supporting institutions, key members from BookWorks, Migrant Journal and ArtNet were present. Followed by a short and focused presentation on KUA, the lively lunch aimed to generate interests for editorial boards and collaborations for future issues.
I have learnt and evolved an immense amount throughout the fellowship. In terms of writing as a curatorial practice, I aim to place extra attention on precision and accessibility within the era of multi-tasking and fragmented attention span, ensuring I place emphasis on digestible content in a publication.
Overall, the fellowship was structured in conjunction with three supportive organisations, which at times was challenging in terms of switching focus between different roles and understanding what demands and tasks were expected of me while developing a project independently. It provided a deep reflection on my curatorial language and focuses, and as a result, I’ve learnt to trust more and respond to my intuition.
Lastly, it was a great fortune for the first issue of KUA to be born into Superdiverse London, supported by Asymmetry. It has been an honour to work amongst exceptional curators and artists from various disciplines throughout this process. It immersed my research in a tightly knitted international network of researchers and producers of contemporary art. It has also provided me with the connection, motivation and level of delivery that I will take forward for all future projects.
 2019 Jérémie Molho, Plural or Fragmented? Identities in a Globalizing Art Market (2019)
 Paul Goodwin, Caroline Minter, Picturing Whiteness: Race Representation in the National Collection of British Art 1700s to Now
 P.J. Ramírez, S. Simon, E. Travaglni. Infrasonica. https://infrasonica.org/
 Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the city (2003) and Deborah Levy, Real Estate, (2021)
 Steven Vertovec, Super-diversity and its implications (2007)