November 15—December 20, 2014
Republic Gallery is pleased to present Mongrel Histories, a solo show of new works on paper by Gwenessa Lam. Lam’s drawings and paintings explore the history of the Kaiping Diaolou, late 19th century multi-storey homes located in Kaiping county, Guongdong, China. These fortress-like defensive buildings were designed to protect against theft and banditry, and are significant for their distinct fusion of architectural styles, exemplifying the impact of emigration in regions such as South Asia, Australasia, and North America.
Lam’s works depict silhouettes and faded renderings of distant buildings. Their hybridized forms attempt to decapitate the model of the tower, to reconfigure their efficacy as vessels of power or escape. When seen in isolation, the amorphous forms engage viewers to question their origins, offering alternate readings to more direct forms of representation. These works build on Lam’s ongoing investigation with historical traces, in which the shadow acts as an index or imprint of what was formerly present. They attempt to make visible the unseen markers that shape our environment and our impressions of them.
The title of this project, Mongrel Histories, stems from Leonie Sandercock and Salman Rushdie’s notion of the “mongrel.” Rushdie describes the mongrel self as one arising from a state of disjuncture or uprooting, however, the act of hybridization is generative and produces something new. Sandercock extends this idea to urbanization and city planning, where the physical division of space can disrupt or bring together different communities to create a mongrel city. In this sense, the diaolou are mongrel, with their layered history, a mixture of styles, and their progression from private home to public heritage sites. The exploration of the term “mongrel” is an attempt to move beyond derogatory associations of impurity or defect in order to expand strict delineations of identity.