The Life and Times of Donaldina Cameron (1977)
Suzanne Lacy and Kathleen Chang
This performance took place for an audience on a ferry to Angel Island, the historical point of entry for Asian immigrants in the San Francisco Bay. The audience, made up of art supporters bound for a one-day series of installations and unsuspecting tourists, boarded a ferry. Each person received a broadsheet featuring stories of Asian Pacific women, those smuggled into the country, Japanese war brides, and legal immigrants, with historic images of these women. As the ferry approached the island, a schooner sailed past with two women—a turn-of-the-century missionary and a Chinese woman dressed in period clothes. Landing on the island near the ferry port, the two women walked slowly up the hill with an audience behind them. At the top they presented two fictitious perspectives that revealed a current conflict: a social reformer (Lacy’s enactment of Donaldina Cameron) told of rescuing Chinese girls smuggled into the country for prostitution and slavery, and a fictional recreation of Chang’s past relative spoke of an escape from China to come to the new world. Taken together, the narratives offered indictment, challenge, and historical understanding to the complicated cross-racial organizing process, commenting on how the very missionaries who transformed and subverted Chinese culture in their subjects were often the only hope for women’s education and health. Leaving character, Lacy and Chang shared a cup of tea while revealing the current race/gender barriers to organizing, the conflicts they faced during their production of the work, their own aesthetic differences and negotiated resolutions, and their developing friendship.
Curated by Lynn Hershman, the exhibition (H)er- rata was produced by the Floating Museum as an imaginative critique of a San Francisco Museum exhibition of site-specific work that excluded women.