Live to Die, 2020

Live to Die
Installations at Black Cube “Fulfillment Center” and “NCECA”


Red doormats that say "welcome" in Chinese and English are found in front of almost every Chinese restaurant and business all over the world.  These mats are markers for crossing thresholds, the objects below our feet that welcome or receive us as we work, spend, desire and consume.  This red is symbolic of good luck and fortune in Chinese culture but synonymous with anger and passion. The pallet rack with the stacks of mats embossed with the phrase "Live to Die", a morality statement found at the bottom of alphabet samplers from the 1800's.  This phrase stitched onto linen by the hands of young girls who probably did not fully understand the darkness and futility of these words.   


Disrupting the perfect stacks of doormats are golden figurines of a young Asian girl, barefoot, wearing a rice pickers hat, and carrying a heavy load on a shoulder yoke.  They become buried under the weight of the mats, hidden and obscured but we know they are there.  Her labor and presence invisible to the objects we so easily order and buy but so much a part of this cycle of consumption and fulfillment. 


I often think of the label “Made in China” and how its associated with objects that are cheaply and poorly made.   What makes their labor and bodies any less than that of American labor? We need to acknowledge and confront are the capitalist systems in place that have created an American ruling class that for decades have put profits over people and continually exploit global inequality.  



Learn more: blackcube.art


100 Years, 100 Women, 2020

100 Years, 100 Women, 2020
Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY
Curated by Dr. Deborah Willis

This year we celebrate the 100th  anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment that guaranteed all American women the right to vote.  In 1920, this did not give all women the right to vote, as Asian American women could not vote until 1952, Native American women could not vote in all 50 states till 1957, and a majority of Black women could not vote till 1965. We vote to create change and see our communities and values reflected in our elected officials. Americans are being confronted with their icons, their fetishes, their appropriations and the erasure of HERstory.  Voter suppression through barriers of registration, id requirements, lack of early voting, laws, intimidation and systemic racism are keeping people from exercising their right to vote.  These hits keep coming but this work to guarantee the right to vote is multigenerational, multicultural, and intersectional and absolutely necessary to dismantle power structures and build an equitable and inclusive United States.



Learn more: www.100years100women.net


thick, 2019

thick, March 21, 2019 - May 20, 2019
Artpace Spring 2019 International Artist-in-Residence Program

Curated by Dr. Deborah Willis


Timeless in the human experience is the desire to change our appearance and it is not limited to our teeth. Grills have been around since seventh century BC with Etruscans living in Italy. Etruscan women were the first to wear gold teeth and what can be categorized as present day grills. They were beyond dentistry adornment and served as physical markers of class, privilege, and power. They have been around since the beginning of human history and have crisscrossed the world and are multicultural.



My Chinese grandmother, Paw Paw, had bad teeth, barely any really. She lived through the brutal struggles of communism in China and came to the US as a refugee in the 70’s. Her teeth were bad because she couldn’t afford to fix them. After working years in a sewing sweat shop in the bowels of Chinatown in NYC, she got a gold rimmed tooth, and eventually gold teeth. All her friends did and they proudly showed off their shiny, new, gold capped teeth, a symbol of their hard work, of moving up in the world, and the American dream.


I am interested in disentangling the history of objects, examining material culture, and how we consume, adorn, and own present day objects. 

This VICE news article goes into a little more depth about the grill and how it intersects multiple cultures and communities. We place the grills within Black culture but they are multicultural.  I do think the word grill is appropriated (language/slang/pop culture hashtags are appropriated from Black culture) and the object itself exists in hip hop and Black culture without knowledge of its origin story.  I don't want to proclaim the ownership of the grill but to ask questions about it and these can be difficult conversations.  I also come to this as a first generation Chinese American who grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and exist within a third culture (neither fully one or the other).


My grill is a porcelain decorated facade for teeth.  It's rimmed in gold luster and adorned with ceramic decals and decorated like the rims of fine china service ware. The blue lipstick is a nod to blue and white pattern decorations and the global migration of this Asian decorative style.  I thought about how as an Asian woman I have to grit my teeth, play nice, and never show face.  I grit my teeth and flare my lips to express my frustration that we have not overcome more as women. I wanted to show that porcelain, like women, is often perceived as fragile and delicate but it is strong and resilient. 

"Hit Me With Your Best Shot" is made from collectible, editioned Lenox, USA china commemorating the White House of the Confederacy. These were made in the USA in 1971 and designed by the Trustees of the White House of the Confederacy Committee and the construction of the new Museum of the Confederacy.  There are about 10-12 different designs and I purchased the plates from eBay and they all come from sellers in Richmond, Virginia. They come in special boxes with pamphlets telling a brief history of the scene or general depicted with no mention of the Civil War, the enslaved people, or Black oppression.  One complete set of these plates are on display at the Smithsonian. 

When I was creating this piece last year, I listened to debates and watched a Confederate statue be removed from downtown San Antonio and a local school go through the process of changing their name from Robert E. Lee high school to Legacy of Educational Excellence (LEE). San Antonio is a minority majority city but the power structures are still white. 


The images of these plates are known people, places, and things that played significant roles in the Confederacy and the oppression of Black people.  The oppression of people of color continued after the Civil War and the histories, stories, and lynching of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and Jews, in the American West and nationwide. This oppression and ideology continues to align with white supremacy, KKK, khaki brigade, voter suppression, anti-Semitism, police brutality and so much more to list. 

I worked with a water jet cutting business in San Antonio to cut out the main image of the plate - essentially erase them and remove them from the collectable, and dismantle their power and value in the object.  I then transformed the cut images by painting MAGA hats on them to show how history of oppression is repeating itself and we have a President that is igniting it.  The images become charms on a bracelet, a collection of monuments taken down.  They are attached to a Cubin linked iced chain bracelet that I purchased in Chinatown, NYC on hip hop jewelry street.  Each store has names of every hip hop/pop artist who has visited their stores.  They are Chinese owned and operated and complete fakes made to look very real.  Each piece has hand set stones and after the purchase the seller stamps "14K" on the back to give the appearance of genuine gold and diamond jewelry. 

Like the grill and this cut plate jewelry, I am interested in the Asian labor in creating objects of cultural ownership and significance that exist in complicated conversations about pop culture.


Truth Before Flowers, 2019

Truth Before Flowers, June 15 - July 25, 2019
Women & Their Work, Austin, Texas


Stories told to children about princesses teach us that women are to be captured, imprisoned, and poisoned and only the love and rescue of a prince can release us from our suffering. As little girls, we are taught to be seen and not heard, perpetuating our roles as empty vessels for the desire and fulfillment of men. These stories are presented to us as truths, our single realities, and grandmothers, mothers, aunties, and sisters have created protective spaces to tell us the other versions.  It’s how I came to my table and learned about my family’s story but also herstory.  


“Truth Before Flowers” disentangles histories and traumas to find empowerment through objects of womanhood. Porcelain objects inspired by the history of teacups and dinnerware allows me to speak in dualities, especially of fragility and resilience and ultimately the struggle between diversity and the flawless white body. Materials like porcelain and hair have criss crossed the world and are migrations of identity and have the power to tell stories. In the 60’s and 70’s, textiles and pottery were considered women’s crafts and not art, hobbies taught at community centers, churches, and after school programs.  I often think about how these were taught to women to keep their hands occupied and keep our voices in domestic spaces and out of public spaces.  I want to deconstruct established hierarchies of materials and champion the handmade. There is a lot of shame and isolation in our stories and I am frustrated that we have not overcome more as women. Through pain and perfection, these objects amplify female voices, reconstruct our identities, and celebrate our truths.

Learn more: womenandtheirwork.org


Don’t Tell Me to Smile, 2019

“Don’t Tell Me to Smile” and “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, 2019
Ruiz-Healy Art, San Antonio & NYC
Don’t Worry Be Happy and Don't Tell Me to Smile explored the social expectations placed on girls and how this pressure translates into womanhood.  Through photography and active recontextualization of objects, I confront the complexities of femininity and the objects and materials that define it.  In Girl Boss, I created the image of a woman with rhinestone barrettes in her hair that sparkle “girl” and “boss” with slip cast figurines.  I was seeing Instagram images and tv interviews with woman wearing barrettes with identifying and empowering labels like “boss”, “feminist”, and “money” but these words did not express how women still earn less than men, the wage gap still exists, and a lot of these issues are even more out of reach for women of color. 



One figurine is from a 1970’s hobby mold of an Asian girl with her stereotypical China bob haircut, rice pickers hat, a heavy yoke across her shoulders, a dragon embroidered on her jacket, and she stands barefoot.  Her body and identity are fetishized in her labor.  The blue and white figurine is a collectible produced most likely in Germany of a white woman wearing a kimono and should yoke with buckets.  Her labor is fetishized yet feminine and white washed.  We still have so much more to do to shatter the bamboo ceiling and climb even higher to break the glass ceiling.


Learn more: ruizhealyart.com