05-15 November 2020

Festivals & Events


November 13, 2019

#NewAmericanPerspectives: 5 Questions for Chef Jenny Dorsey, Creative Director of ASIAN IN AMERICA

The Vilcek Foundation has partnered with the Hawai’i International Film Festival to re-launch the “New American Perspectives” program. The program is the product of a partnership between the Vilcek Foundation and HIFF, focused on highlighting the contributions of foreign-born filmmakers and creative directors to cinema and multimedia arts in the United States.

The 2019 New American Perspectives program features the films and multimedia projects of five talented women artists: Saudi Arabian-born director Haifaa Al Mansour and her film, THE PERFECT CANDIDATE, Filipino-born Isabel Sandoval and her film, LINGUA FRANCA,  Taiwanese-born Emily Ting and her film, GO BACK TO CHINA; Japanese-born HIKARI and her film, 37 SECONDS, and Chinese-born Jenny Dorsey and her virtual- and augmented-reality presentation, ASIAN IN AMERICA. While each of the films and presentations are unique in its style and approach, they are united thematically – addressing stories about identity, self-actualization, and personal agency the context of community, family, and society.

ASIAN IN AMERICA is a symbolic exhibition and dining experience by Studio ATAO under the creative direction of Chef Jenny Dorsey.  ASIAN IN AMERICA explores the complex narrative of the Asian American identity through food and drink, virtual reality, spoken word performance, and poetry. The ingredients, cooking techniques and alternating presentations of poetry and virtual reality recreations take guests on a multi-sensory journey through the trials and triumphs of the Asian American identity, addressing topics from cultural hierarchies in the food system, to the lack of individualism granted to minorities, to the internalization of the “white savior” complex. 

Chef Jenny Dorsey and Studio ATAO will present ASIAN IN AMERICA on Tuesday, November 12, at Chef Andrew Le’s Honolulu restaurant, THE PIG AND THE LADY. Details about the program and tickets may be found at ASIAN IN AMERICA

How have your experiences as an immigrant shaped your work as an artist and media-maker?  

My personal relationship with assimilation, from wanting to be blonde & blue-eyed as a child to rejecting "fobs" as a teenager to being fetishized in college, to being tokenized in the food world as I've done more work in the DEI field is a prevalent theme within my work. I like to explore how each individual internalizes and reacts to the idea of white supremacy and patriarchy in this country, especially the complex aspects where many will vote or do things in direct opposition to what would 'actually' benefit them because of the continued traumas of our immigration system.

When did you move to the United States? What motivated and inspired you to move to the United States? 

I was born in Shanghai and moved to the United States with my grandparents at age 3. My parents moved to the states to pursue PhDs in cellular and molecular biology – higher education is important in our family. I lived in New York City for 5 years, and then grew up and went to college in Seattle, Washington.

What inspired you to create Asian in America, and what were the processes for bringing your vision to life? 

Asian in America first began as a 3-course meal to talk about my experience as a first generation Chinese American through the lens of food. Once I had finished executing a 3-course meal on the subject, I realized there was so much more to unpack -- so it has since blossomed into a 6-course experience where each course speaks honestly about my thoughts on themes like food authenticity, cultural appropriation, the white savior complex and the model minority myth. I wrote accompanying poetry for courses 1, 3, and 5, and I brought on a VR Tilt Brush artist to bring the other 3 courses (courses 2, 4, and 6) to life. She (the artist) and I worked together so she could mimic what I would do in a kitchen via illustration - drawing each step of the food preparation in the proper order so the guest feels the food is being "cooked" for them.

How can virtual reality help create connections and start conversations among people who experienced Asian in America, and what conversations are you hoping they have?

Using VR has elevated the stories and meaning behind the dishes since it can consistently, precisely and visually explain the symbolism behind the ingredients and cooking techniques. The VR videos in the Asian in America experience is a brushstroke by brushstroke recreating these courses with audio narration explaining the symbolism behind the dish. By putting on the VR headset, it can take our guests away to an introspective place where they can be alone with their thoughts and reflect, even in the middle of a busy dinner table. When people come out of VR, the food is in front of them so instead of just taking a picture and consuming it, there’s a moment of pause: understanding what you’re eating and why you are eating what you are eating. As an introvert, I've found VR to also be a powerful way to even the playing field between extrovert and introvert guests: everyone has restorative niches over the course of the evening even though they are seated 1-2 feet from each other. Each course has a specific topic, so at the beginning of the dinner I give a direct call to action for people to dig into the topic at hand: to share their lived experiences or – if it’s not their lived experience – to ask questions.

If you could provide any message to young and aspiring artists who are immigrants, what would it be?

Evaluate what external messaging you've absorbed about what dictates your 'worth' as a person and an immigrant. Many times, we don't consciously realize how toxic these pressures are (from both the white majority as well as our own immigrant communities). Take a hard look and decide how much you want these ideas to impact how you live your life.

Also, it is not your responsibility to make your lived experience, your cultural background accessible to anyone. It is their job to learn and ask the right questions. It is not your job to waste emotional labor on 'educating' others if you do not want to.

In addition to Jenny’s presentation of ASIAN IN AMERICA, A panel discussion, HIFF TALKS: NEW AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, will be held on Saturday, November 16 at 1:00 pm, featuring remarks from Jenny and all of New American Perspectives artists.  This panel is free and open to the public and to all HIFF attendees. 

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