A Stranded Whale

Zackery Yao is a New York-based artist whose experimental photography and mixed media serve as a voice shaped by diverse experiences. Infused with his multicultural upbringing and personal narratives, Yao's work is a philosophical approach to political tensions, inequality conflict, health disparities, eco-feminism, urban decay, Chinese queerness, and race, all underpinned by the universal theme of intimacy and love.

Yao emerges as a profound exploration of self-identity, metaphorically likening Yao's experience to that of a confused, stranded whale navigating the urban decay of our world, uncertain of the future direction. Born in China and shaped by a multicultural background, Yao is still on a journey to understand his cultural identity. Confident yet perplexed, Yao finds himself lost in the remnants of past idealistic fantasies of globalization. This quest is deeply rooted in the struggle for a localized ethnic identity amidst the dominant forces of American cultural hegemony, signaling an awakening of self-citizen consciousness and the individual servility ingrained in contemporary Chinese political metaphors. As Cathy Park Hong articulates in "Minor Feelings," the representation of artists like Yao in the arts is minimal, and even in success, they are seen through the lens of minority achievements as defined by a privileged few.

For Asian artists in America like Yao, the dilemma often lies between pursuing cultural authenticity or creative freedom. The pervasive impact of decentralized white supremacy and cultural hegemony profoundly influences Yao's creative impulses, especially as aspects of queerness and environmental degradation fuel their need for expression. Yet, as an Asian American photographer, Yao's artistic voice seems confined within the limitations of Western-centric cultural hegemony, where understanding and attention are more readily available through the exploration of the body. Despite this, Yao's work grapples with the tension between staying true to their roots and pursuing creative freedom.

The issue of decentralized white supremacy in mainstream culture, although a well-explored topic, continues to affect perceptions, such as the assumption that success in America is tied to American citizenship, especially for minorities. The voices of many minority artists, possibly adhering to the Chinese saying "better to do less than more," are often silenced, choosing non-expression over potential criticism. However, this silence does not strip Yao and others of their right to speak up, a privilege they believe is inherent to artists.

Yao's work challenges the centralized power dynamics in photography, raising questions about their true artistic intentions in a landscape where their art finds voice and attention primarily within an American cultural context. Yao aims to return to the basics of photography—materiality, technique, and concept—eschewing the lure of excessive exposure and the superficiality of a capital-driven art scene. Despite the inherent contradictions, Yao remains committed to authentic artistic expression, navigating the complex interplay of identity, creativity, and cultural representation.