Curatorial Projects > Chico & Chang (2011-2012)

Charlene Tan
Silent Labor (detail), 2011
Wood, mirror plexi, shellac, latent print powder

“It is much harder to sell anything if people know that laborers are treated unfairly, and are unwilling to recognize the consequences of injustice. Yet we live in a time that chooses to ignore a growing population of unjustly treated laborers while embracing hyperbolic xenophobia; a population seen in a light of criminality and unbridled scorn. This is our apartheid, our own accepted form of injustice to individuals who like ourselves love, feel pain, and dream. Enforced injustice due to the invisible boundaries of nation-states that make citizenship a key to the economic value of a human. We are surrounded by the labor of silenced individuals who live in our world, our communities, and our neighborhoods; can we live in environments saturated in injustice, in which we are passive oppressors of a silent population?

I was born to a family of two illegal immigrants who leaped through loopholes in the American immigration laws, in which parents of native-born children would be deported and the children could become wards of the state. I became the political anchor that would keep two individuals in a country they found themselves bound to.

This brings me to a topic about a silent labor force in a story about a cherrywood dining table from China. When I was 14 a family friend gave us an old traditional Chinese-style table. We swooned because my family had just bought a new home and we needed furniture. As we unpacked the table piece by piece my younger brother and I noticed handprints in dust on the finished surfaces. Thinking nothing of it, we chirped about the small size of the hands, thinking it was an errant child playing in the storeroom. Then, we saw small handprints in wood stain and shellac. Our hearts sank when we realized the hands smaller than ours built our table. Silent anger laced with guilt took over; we could be these unknown workers. I did nothing…” – Charlene Tan

Chico & Chang

June 11 - August 20, 2011
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

Photo credit: Scott Chernis