In 2008, I began a series of "walking tours" to take up questions of outsider status or foreignness. In these projects, I wear "surgical" masks crafted from camouflage fabrics and take walks in unfamiliar locations outside of the United States.
Over the last few years, I have performed walks in Argentina, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Laos, Nepal, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Rwanda, South Africa, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, and Uruguay.
Fabric masks, which I originally saw in Vietnam being worn by people on mopeds and motorbikes, are dysfunctional barriers, as the fabric provides neither medical nor environmental protection. Arguably, they are more effective as signifiers, which leave open the question of whether the mask is meant to protect the wearer from the environment or the environment from the wearer.
As I began the project, I was personally curious about how one chooses to figure one's own identity as a visual representative of a group that may have been historically aligned with colonization, but other important themes in the work, especially as I have walked in Europe and North America, are (im)migration and (dis)location.
I use camouflage fabrics to draw attention to the (im)possibility and/or the (un)desirability of blending in with a dominant culture. But as I have performed the work in different countries, the referents of the masks have changed, influenced by both context (guerillas in Colombia) and timing (SARS in Argentina).
If a companion is available, the walks are documented photographically. One photograph from each walk is printed "life size", meaning that the figures in the prints match my own body measurements. These are installed in the gallery with matching eye levels.
After each walk, I try to embroider one mask with the (often pejorative) term for (white) foreigners, words like angrez, baraig, bule, farang, gaigin, gringo, gweilo, haole, mzungo, obruni. These embroidered masks were also used in a performance called White Foreigners at Forest Art Wisconsin in Minoqua, WI in 2007, a show curated by Ute Ritschel with the theme Native/Invasive.