½ (Text), 1998
49.625 x 39.75 inches
Gift of Gordon Locksley and George T. Shea
Shortly before Zhang Huan left his native China to relocate in the United States, he performed a work of art in which he invited friends to write phrases or words on his face and body with black ink. In this resulting self-portrait, Huan's ethnicity is literally inscribed on his body. Yet for most Western viewers the text is unreadable. ½ (Text) is a visual metaphor for the difficult transcultural experience upon which Zhang was about to embark. As an Asian body circulating within a Western culture, would Zhang himself be as difficult to understand as his language? He said, "The body is the only direct way through which I come to know society and society comes to know me. The body is the proof of identity. The body is language."