Amanda Ba interrogates identity issues, Juggalos in ‘Middleland’

The Columbus-born artist’s stunning new exhibit will remain on display at No Place Gallery through early December.
"I-71" by Amanda Ba
"I-71" by Amanda BaCourtesy No Place Gallery

In Amanda Ba’s new exhibit, “Middleland,” currently on display at No Place Gallery, the Columbus-born, New York-based artist grapples with the gulf that can exist between Ohio’s existence as a multicultural refuge and its reputation as a bastion of Midwestern values.

Along with this, Ba also interrogates Asian American identity and how it operates in proximity to whiteness – a concept she has long considered, and which resurfaced unexpectedly a couple of years back when she attended the Gathering of the Juggalos in Thornville, Ohio.

“I knew going in there was going to be Faygo, and that Steve-O was going to be there,” Ba said in a late October, accompanied by her dog, Sweetie, for a Zoom interview. “And in terms of my actual experience, it did not disappoint, and it was exciting. But it also got me thinking.”

For Ba, attending the festival led her to weigh everything from the Juggalo subculture and its working class, blue-collar roots to the spirit of radical inclusivity she said she observed on site. 

“It was this very accepting community, where I saw queer and trans people,” she said. “But it also got me thinking about how it’s a largely white community. And while I did see other ethnicities there, I felt like I was the only Asian person. ... And so, I left thinking about how in Asian culture it’s definitely a thing to sort of distance yourself from coming off poor. And I’m not sure if that’s why there weren’t more Asian people there – I think it takes time for outside communities to be introduced to a subculture – but it reminded me how Asian immigrants definitely aspire toward the power and wealth that in their mind whiteness entails. And Juggalos don’t really fit into that vision.”

These ideas rattled around in Ba’s brain for nearly two years, eventually crystallizing in “Juggalette,” a large-scale painting that greets visitors entering No Place Gallery, where "Middleland" will remain on display through Dec. 9.

“Juggalette” is one of four striking, outsized works created by the artist in recent months, each examining a distinct aspect of Midwestern culture, from hunting to high school football. (One eye-catching work dubbed "I-71" depicts a woman on a motorcycle racing past the Hell Is Real sign – as iconic an image as any found in Central Ohio.)

"Juggalette" by Amanda Ba
"Juggalette" by Amanda BaCourtesy No Place Gallery

While Ba’s paintings dominate the main gallery, the soul of the exhibit is contained within “24 Hours in Middleland,” a two-channel video installation that plays in a loop in a rear room. The film, Ba’s first, sets footage of white suburbia in and around Columbus next to scenes of the artist’s parents navigating daily life in the area, and even a cursory viewing has the effect of bending the other works on display in the gallery, allowing visitors to view the paintings with a different perspective when exiting than they did upon entrance.

“It sort of juxtaposes diasporic life, diasporic culture, diasporic events with things that are stereotypically Midwestern or suburban,” said Ba, whose initial concept for the film was further influenced by reading Amalgamation Schemes by Jared Sexton. “The essay was sort of a critique of multiculturalism and how the promotion of multiculturalism can be a panacea for deeper-rooted issues of anti-Blackness and heteronormativity. So, when a place boasts that it’s multicultural or diverse, it can make people feel satiated, to a point, with how things are going. It can make people feel complacent, which can keep things how they are. ... I learned a lot through filming, for sure, and it carried over into the rest of the work.”

Up to this point in her art career, Ba has focused most of her efforts on the canvas – often to staggering effect. (The paintings at No Place really demand to be seen.) At the same time, the artist said there are limitations to painting, admitting she has become increasingly disenchanted with the staid nature of the practice.

“Painting is the most capital-A Arts thing ever. No one ever questions if a painting is a work of art, right? If it’s on canvas, it’s art. It’s the definition of art,” Ba said. “Painting has a lot of baggage and limitations, where video tends to be more urgent and contemporary. By its nature you’re able to capture things as they are [with video], and you can react and comment quickly.”

This can be particularly useful living and working in this current era, Ba said, a time in which everything seems to be happening at an increasingly accelerated rate. Ba’s paintings, in contrast, tend to develop more slowly – at least in conception – with the artist detailing how she maintains a backstock of ideas that will tumble around in her head until they’re one day ready to emerge. 

“I wasn’t planning on making a painting about the Gathering, but when I was putting together the exhibit and thinking about what the last painting would be, my mind went right to Juggalos,” said Ba, who created “Juggalette” in a matter of weeks almost two years after she spent a weekend among the grease paint-smeared throngs in Thornville. “I always have a backstock of ideas … and they sort of drift around unformed until they’re ready to come back around.”

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