Greg Leong

Sue Moss

Greg Leong, JIA

Greg Leong, JIA

Greg Leong, JIA

Greg Leong is an established textile artist and designer. His inaugural performance, JIA (home) emerged from earlier exhibitions which explored his Chinese-Australian background through interweaving fabric and personal story. JIA is an ambitious move with Leong writing, performing songs, designing Princess Feng Yee’s costumes—including an original Peking Opera brocaded gown—and producing graphics incorporated into a panoply of screened images.Via chitchat and song, and through the personae of Closet Princess Feng Yee, Leong traces the emotional and intellectual hazards of his journey from Hong Kong to Tasmania. Directed by Robert Jarman, Princess Feng Yee stars in her own karaoke cabaret, with a theatricality that jibes and japes at the crude and the cruel. The targets are obvious, including Pauline Hanson’s racism looking for a policy, and the incipient exclusion each of us practices at different times in our engagement with the unfamiliar. Princess Feng Yee sings I Can Rrrrreally Rrrrroll My Rrrrr’s and we all sing along with Rrrrr’s rolling enthusiasm, laughing and wincing as we recognise our complicity.

Leong’s journey resonates with other iconic Chinese-Australian figures from public life and the arts, including William Yang, Dr Victor Chang, Bill O’Chee, Annette Shun-wah and Jenny Kee. JIA can be read as an implied paean to the success of these figures. It also uses elements of Leong’s own journey, tracing family connection and memory. Feng Yee revisits the old country in order to find out what and who she used to be. We “might be common, dowdy and so, so white” but this doesn’t prevent Feng Yee’s eventual return to Tasmania where she finally learns to call Australia home.

JIA incorporates diverse visual concepts imagined and created by Leong with technical direction by Andrew Charman-Williams. The audience is constantly drawn to the screen, in some cases necessarily so, after all this is a karaoke cabaret. The dilemma is that even the sumptuous and irascible Feng Yee is at times overshadowed by the constantly changing images. There are some wonderful visual moments including a shift from dense Hong Kong tower blocks pixellating away until the screen resembles the weave of cloth.

Through his hilarious, jostling commentary Leong continues to reflect and refract our dependency on tired icons. Feng Yee teaches us a Cantonese version of Click Go the Shears. We might be able to roll our rrr’s, but we are all at sea with Cantonese script romanised for our enunciation. Point made. We are bloody hopeless, and helpless with laughter. JIA is like nothing else we have seen or heard. Then again neither is Princess Feng Yee, who taunts with her basso profundo voice and fascinating on-stage costume changes. The culminating sequence is the Asianisation of Tom Roberts. Leong’s and other Chinese faces are superimposed on the hairy and sweaty shearers in Shearing the Rams, a classic moment of ringer/ring-in cultural inversion.

Greg Leong, JIA: a tale of two islands, Annexe Theatre, Launceston, June 26, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Sept 4-5, Nexus Multicultural Arts Centre, Adelaide, Nov 21, Midsumma, Melbourne, Jan 2004, Goldsmiths College, University of London, Feb 2004

Leong’s work can be seen at Gallery 4A, Sydney until Oct 19.

RealTime issue #57 Oct-Nov 2003 pg. 29

© Sue Best; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2003