Al Wong: Lost Sister is a meditation on a family member the artist never met. Though Wong’s father immigrated to the United States in 1917 and the artist himself was born and raised in San Francisco, his family was able to maintain contact with relatives still living in China until the Chinese Civil War and Communist Revolution, when communication became difficult. In this series of sixty-four unique but related variations of a portrait of a young woman, the artist attempts to imagine and capture the psychological pressures felt by the subject, who was trapped in China and unable to join her family in the United States. Fifty-seven of the images incorporate the same photographic portrait—torn, cut, or shredded, the pieces reassembled into a face that is barely recognizable, and at times even psychedelic or alien. In other instances, the visage is stapled, excised, burned, or incised with pins. Consecutive manipulations of the image evoke not only the Chinese immigrant experience, but also the universal feelings of displacement and detachment that permeate immigrant communities.
Wong taught at the San Francisco Art Institute for more than forty years and has had numerous exhibitions in San Francisco and across the country. A pioneering experimental filmmaker and artist, he often combines film, light projections, and shadows in his installation pieces. Wong’s filmmaking sensibility is evident in Lost Sister, which is displayed, as intended by the artist, in a sequential line to mimic the frames of a moving picture.
Lost Sister, presented here in its entirety for the first time, is a formal exercise in collage that quietly captures the feelings of alienation, estrangement, and confinement experienced by both Chinese immigrants and family members left behind, as personal histories collide with geopolitical conflicts and revolution.