“Stitching Radical Friendship” — Chinese Artists and Organizers’ Collective Visit to Wesleyan

On March 5th, five artists from Chinese Artists and Organizers Collective (CAO) held an artist talk and stitching workshop at the CFA’s south gallery in collaboration with student-artists at Wesleyan.

CAO Collective is a group of Chinese diasporic queer feminist artists. They see their practice as rooted in China, the Sinophone diaspora, and every life experience in between. They create art to organize, (re)build a sustainable community, support collective healing, empowerment, and systemic change. They seek to make space for political conversations and community-oriented art in solidarity with other marginalized communities.

During the event, the artists introduced their past projects centered around the experience of diaspora, censorship, and communal healing from a Chinese feminist perspective. For example, they shared a performance piece called “Good Mourning,” which included the creating and breaking of ceramics in a communal mourning ritual in the context of China’s drastic change of Covid policy. In conversations with CAO’s projects, Chinese student-artists at Wesleyan also presented their work on campus that spoke to similar themes, like their interstitial experiences of living in China and the US and responses to recent political developments in China.

During the artist talk, the audience was invited to take highlights of the mentioned projects, which were printed or recreated as a curated exhibition, and stitch them onto a large pieces of fabric, merging shared political memories on campus, CAO collective’s work, and personal memories. As an ending ritual, participants passed along a ball of yarn, which ended up intertwining everyone in a net of interconnections.

Throughout the events, the organizers and CAO artists explored how friendship can be a form of radical collectivity that defies the separating of humanity and truncating of relationships that states and racial capitalism seek to impose. Participants discussed how friendship had the potential to break away from the liberal pretense of care and the patriarchal, heteronormative nuclear family. Friendship seeks an alternative, feminist narrative to the masculine heroism in social movements. The experimental attempt at such collectivity is hopefully felt through or embodied by the stitching and other practices shared in the workshop.

This event was generously sponsored by the College of East Asian Studies, Fries Center for Global Studies, Center for the Humanities, and Resource Center. We also thank the Center of the Arts for providing the gallery space.

Xiran Tan, Class of 2024, xtan01@wesleyan.edu