Kenneth Tam

without them


without them, 2023
8 x 24 inches
Archival pigment print
Open edition, available only through December 10, 2023
Signed and dated by the artist

Taking an interdisciplinary approach using video, sculpture, installation, movement, performance, and photography, Kenneth Tam examines themes including the performance of masculinity, the transformative potential of ritual, and expressions of intimacy within groups. Tam often implicates the male body in his projects, using humor and pathos to reveal the performative and unstable nature of identity, and often creates situations that foreground tenderness and vulnerability within unlikely settings.

Tam received his BFA from the Cooper Union and his MFA in 2010. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Rice University, and faculty at The Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. He has recently held solo presentations of his work at Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), Berkeley; The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Ballroom Marfa, Texas; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson; Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Queens Museum, NY. Tam’s work is in the collections of the Hammer Museum, Guggenheim Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University.

This artwork was inspired by and features a quote from President Chester Arthur’s 1882 address to Congress, without them, nobody would do the work, where he pointed out the instrumental role of the thousands of Chinese migrant laborers who worked on the construction of the American Railroad. Tam created the original photograph in a tunnel constructed by these laborers in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe, CA. While the quote specifically speaks about this group, it can be applied broadly to recognize all the migrant workers who have come to the US, taking on the indispensable and often physically demanding tasks and jobs that others have chosen not to do.

This signed fine art print is based off of the billboard that Tam created as a part of Silkroad’s American Railroad tour,  which use a visual vernacular to tell stories of the fraught legacy of American Imperialism and the quiet histories of those who toiled to build this country. The billboards will be on display in Los Angeles from October 30 – November 27, 2023. Tam first collaborated with For Freedoms as part of the collaborative group Stop DiscriminAsian, who worked with For Freedoms on a billboard campaign responding to the rise of anti-Asian violence at the onset of the pandemic.

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