September 5-September 25, 2020
Curated by Jeff Katzin, Curatorial Fellow at the Akron Art Museum
FJORD is pleased to announce the upcoming solo exhibition, Doah Lee: Hate Alphabet.
Doah Lee’s 100 Days of Alphabet project began with the idea of making 100 works of art in 100
days. In fact, she ended up creating over 300. Each day, she started with three six-by-six-inch
pieces of paper, covered them completely with pencil shading and drawings, and then
painstakingly erased these marks to create first a letter of the Latin alphabet, second the phrase
“Hate Alphabet,” and third “* Alphabet” with an intervening asterisk. When she ran out of both
upper- and lower-case letters, she moved on to the bracketed pronunciation symbols that helped
her learn spoken English after moving to the United States from her native South Korea. Indeed,
the 100 Days of Alphabet project is a reflection on that fraught process. Its central phrase—Hate
Alphabet—contains many meanings, referring all at once to Lee’s frustration in learning a new
language, to the hostility that she saw brought to bear against fellow non-native speakers when
their struggles with language marked them as immigrants, and to the anger she felt in witnessing
this mistreatment. The asterisk sometimes concealing the word “Hate” suggests the pressure to
hide resentment and preserve against antagonism—the pressure to pretend to ignore the past
colonial histories and the present power dynamics of language in favor of assimilation. Lee’s
strenuous erasing parallels this effort of adapting and concealing, creating and removing, but
never removing everything.
Lee started her project on January 25, 2020, the first day of the lunar year. She dated her
drawings by the Korean calendar, leaving them fittingly out of joint in a country that would
assume “01.01.2020” to refer to a different day. At the time, COVID-19 might have appeared
only on America’s distant horizons, but soon the pandemic became the total context for Lee’s
work. The three hours of intensive labor required to continue the 100 Days of Alphabet project
each day kept her going during stay-at-home orders. As Asian Americans began to face new
racism, she was particularly determined to share her own experiences. She also wanted to combat
the idea that artists are not “essential workers” and to show that what she was doing was
worthwhile, even in a time where people were losing their lives.
This long explanation pertains to just the central works of art featured in Doah Lee: Hate
Alphabet, but every piece is just as full of meaning and the result of just as much dedication.
Unlike so many artists, if you ask Lee about the ideas behind her work, she will simply describe
them to you, plainly and directly. She has no reason to fear that her art will be exhausted by
explanation (it is too rich and too open) and she has no interest in hiding her personal
experiences (they are too important).
By Jeff Katzin, Guest Curator, Curatorial Fellow at the Akron Art Museum