Tommy Kha, "Good View (As a Billy Kwan)", 2011, from the series American Knees, archival inkjet print, 16x20”.

Tommy Kha, “Good View (As a Billy Kwan)”, 2011, from the series “American Knees”, archival inkjet print, 16×20”.

Tommy Kha

“American Knees” examines the notion of “Yellowface”, a pre-Hollywood-centric practice of casting Caucasian actors to play Asian roles, with them acting out stereotypical mannerisms and physically altering their appearances to resemble Asian facial characteristics. This practice leads to biased portrayals of Asians in Wesern media and control over a how a certain race should look or act.

My intention with “American Knees” is to attempt to take back control of Yellowface by altering my already inherited Asian face and accentuating its traits with make-up, props, costumes and expressions. This act undermines the Caucasian-owned tradition of Yellowface by giving this “mask” to an Asian person. At the same time, my work solicits questions about my own identity as a Chinese American. Being Chinese-American does not necessarily allow me the right to wear Yellowface, nor does it give me authority to edit the history of Asians in passive, mystic, benevolent, supporting, effeminate or weak traditional roles in Western popular culture.

Chinese-American photographer Tommy Kha (New Haven, CT) is a photographer from Memphis, TN currently residing in New Haven, CT. His work has been exhibited in solo shows at venues including Five in One and Jack Robinson Gallery (both in Memphis, TN) and at group exhibitions in New York, Shanghai, Austin, and Memphis. In 2009, Memphis Crossroads Magazine named Kha one of the “Top Twenty Untapped Artists.” An alumnus of the New York Studio Residency Program and a Digital Photography Residency in Shanghai in summer of 2010, Kha received his BFA from the Memphis College of Art in 2011, where he was awarded the Jessie and Dolph Smith Emeritus Award, and is set to receive his MFA in Photography from Yale University in 2013. Tommy Kha was an artist-in-residence at CPW in July of 2011.