The Buddhist Bug, Into The Night
Medium: 2-channel HD video projection, 9:47 minutes (looped), Edition of 5
Size of work: —Enquire Whatsapp
Through her ongoing interdisciplinary series of performances and activities titled The Buddhist Bug, Anida Yoeu Ali seeks to delve into the complex issues of displacement and belonging. By merging performance art and audience engagement, her work emerges from a deeply personal exploration of her spiritual and cultural identity. Born in Cambodia as a first-generation Muslim Khmer woman and raised in the United States, where she currently resides, Ali’s experiences have shaped her art.
The Buddhist Bug serves not only as an expression of her hybrid transnational identity but also as a representation of pressing social issues of our time, including mobility, immigration, and cultural hybridization. Ali aims to raise awareness of these topics in Malaysia, a multicultural country where, much like in the United States, cultural, religious, and racial identities coexist and challenge the sense of unity among its citizens. Her ambitious project encompasses a performance workshop for emerging artists, public space and art space performances, an exhibition, and a discussion. Anida Yoeu Ali’s The Buddhist Bug, Into the Night is an extension of her Buddhist Bug series, which includes photographs, videos, and live performances. In this series, the artist whimsically dons a sinuous, caterpillar-like costume, adorned in colors reminiscent of Buddhist monk robes. Her bug character is inspired by her deep fascination with Buddhism as a Khmer-Muslim and her exploration of diasporic identities. The project evolved when Ali returned to her birthplace, Cambodia, to document its changing rural and metropolitan landscapes while navigating her multifaceted background as a “Khmer-Muslim, Cambodian- American, Cham minority, and Malaysian.”
Throughout various social encounters in Phnom Penh, Ali’s bug character takes center stage, appearing among communities, schools, cinemas, restaurants, bars, and rapidly evolving urban and rural landscapes. The bug’s elongated coils gracefully wrap around tables, balance improbably on a bicycle, and infiltrate karaoke bars. The video commissioned for APT8 captures these nighttime engagements, showcasing the bug as a potent symbol of encounter, habitation, and reinvention in the nocturnal cityscape. Ali’s interdisciplinary approach to her work allows her to map out new political and spiritual landscapes. She utilizes meters of textile as her skin, enabling her body to extend into public spaces and serving as a metaphorical device for stories to span across vast expanses. The bug, for her, embodies a sense of play and curiosity, representing a displaced creature destined to wander in the “in-between” spaces—between who it is and where it exists. This liminal space becomes a powerful realm for encounters, habitation, and reinvention.
The bug itself is a fantastical saffron-colored creature that can span the length of a 40-meter bridge or coil into a small orange ball. Rooted in Ali’s autobiographical exploration of her identity, the bug prompts questions of belonging and displacement when placed among everyday people in ordinary moments. Each vignette in the series captures a slice of real life, with the bug element adding surreal and provocative dimensions. A consistent theme in this series is the unique combination of humor and otherness, reflecting the artist’s personality, which blends humor, performance, science fiction, and a love for everyday culture into moments that transcend the ordinary.
At the core of Anida Yoeu Ali’s work lies a deep interest in developing narratives, often ones that exist outside conventional norms. The Buddhist Bug project continues her methodology of allowing personal narratives to shape her art. She believes that performing narratives is a form of social engagement that contributes to collective care and healing. For her, performance and storytelling serve as bridges between the interior and exterior spaces of the self and as catalysts for critical dialogues between communities and institutions. Her interdisciplinary works strive to discover essential intersections between performing narratives and engaging with the audience.
About the Artist
Anida Yoeu Ali (b.1974, Battambang) is an artist whose works span performance, installation, video, poetry, public encounters, and political agitation. She is a first-generation Muslim Khmer woman born in Cambodia and raised in Chicago. After residing for over three decades outside of Cambodia, Ali returned to work in Phnom Penh as part of her 2011 U.S. Fulbright Fellowship researching creation mythologies in contemporary Khmer performance.
Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to artmaking, her installation and performance works investigate the artistic, spiritual, and political collisions of a hybrid transnational identity. From the Faroe Islands to the Bronx, Copenhagen to Ho Chi Minh City, she lectures, exhibits and performs internationally. Her pioneering work with the critically acclaimed group I Was Born With Two Tongues (1998-2003) is archived with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and the Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library. Her latest work The Red Chador (2015-2017) unapologetically stares into the face of Islamophobia whether it’s on the streets of Paris after the Charlie Hebdo killings or on the collegiate U.S. playgrounds of wealthy Trump voters. Unfortunately in 2017, the original garment of The Red Chador (last performed at the Kuala Lumpur Biennale) was confiscated by Israeli airline officials, marking the death of the performance project. No stranger to controversy, Ali’s artworks have agitated the White House (My Asian Americana, 2011 & Return to Sender, 2012), been attacked by anonymous vandals (1700% Project, 2010), and censored by Vietnam’s “culture” police (Pushing Thru Borders, 2003).