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"Memory Into Flesh: A Tribute to the Performance & Activism of Anida Yoeu Ali"

A multimedia conversation on stage with the artist recounting her raw energy, powerful vision and unbending conviction that refuses to acquiesce to what bell hooks so blatantly terms "the white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy" from spoken word to graphic design to political activism to writing to Butoh dance to performance art to motherhood.


Saturday, April 10th
Gene Siskel Film Center

Once upon a biased time, the intolerant world Anida Yoeu Ali lived in revolved around performance poetry. Or poetry performed by a young but powerful Asian American female voice. Of brash words, rightly so, that when spoken cajole, accuse, incite or inspire, revere, love, to say the least or rather the most really about a plethora of social and political woes. And there she was, a portrait of a Cambodian Muslim refugee as a spoken word artist if you will fighting a verbal war against the racist neoconservative times when paradoxically rap rhythms abounded and hip-hop attitudes held sway. Even her audience back then knew Anida under a collective identity, another surname.

Fast forward to now. And the many untold stories told by words that move and shape a body of work, literally her body from another time, displaced by not one, but often many tongues spoken in defense of an undying faith in community poetically remain.

Anida Yoeu Ali as performance artist and activist remembers. Carrying an onerous weight from which she cries out, her oppressed voice still flings words in outrage. To affect change, to right wrongs, to make the world itself an equitable and magnanimous place to live for all is what she believes as Khmer Rouge survivor who becomes a Woman Warrior.

This, of course, is her natural calling. To use so many words, that is. But deep down, she knew or rather came to realize how text whether spoken or written becomes fragile. It is after all internalized, a hermetic record that resides on paper as line, something two-dimensional or within time as sound faded.

So why does she then sacrifice these words? True to her artistic instincts, Anida sought another direction from or through action to reinvent another language of her physical self that gave body to text as static and moving image beyond calligraphic or ideographic form. She understood the contextual nature of how wielding words on stage related to time-based movement in terms of performance and sculpture as methodology.

Now Anida Yoeu Ali continues to speak not only in volume, but mass and space as well as time. For her, the three-dimensionality of her body gives her text another structure, a living surface that follows many varied and generalized functions, all of which reference specific issues concerning gender, sexuality and identity that also broadly reflect the politics of representation. Which then also allows her the conceptual framework to incorporate a larger history that connects who she is to specific memories associated with self and place healing her mind, body and soul. In a way her work transcends into a deeper body politic investigating surface (flesh), space (figure) and time (memory) as exterior and interior material in addition to performative object in response to the past, present and future that shapes her political and spiritual being.

In other words, Anida Yoeu Ali is willing to change the world beginning with herself. Such courage is always to be admired, applauded and cherished. Because to remember is not to forget.

~Larry Lee, March 22, 2010

STATEMENT: As an artist and a Cambodian Muslim transnational, I am professionally and personally drawn to themes of recuperation and reclamation.  My work synthesizes poetry, movement, video, and site-specific installations into hybrid explorations, often mapping new political and spiritual landscapes. Recalling that the oral tradition saved and preserved Cambodian art, I am inspired as an artist to seek those routes of memory. Memories surface through the body. Memories do not follow linear chronology. Artists have a power to bring out memories, stories, and moments that official history does not always account for. Artists also have a way of disrupting meta-narratives. I perform stories in an attempt to remember my ancestry, my memories, and my relationship to the spirit world. Accordingly, batik sarongs, Muslim prayer garments, my father’s PTSD panic attacks, my daughter’s pterodactyl-like noises, recollections and tales of “Home”, the displaced body, Butoh, my parents’ old photos from Cambodia, turmoil, and joy are all elements of my art. Although my work has increasingly shifted towards movement, dance, and installation, I have never abandoned writing.  Narratives continue to operate, alongside text and writing, as source materials for new works. Performing narratives is an act of social storytelling that contributes to collective healing. Performance and storytelling have become ways of bridging the interior and exterior space of self. This theme of externalizing my interior space is the thread that connects my early writings and performances with my current body of work. Currently, I perform in site-specific locations, often energetically “charged” spaces that utilize yards and yards of textile/fiber. For me, this material acts as an extension of skin, as a way for the surface of my body to extend into public spaces, and as a metaphoric device for stories to spread across an expanse. Rooted in autobiographical experiences my work chronicles my life, my family’s experiences, and my dreams. My work, in all its forms, acknowledges the solidarity of shared historical and diasporic struggles. As an art-maker, I am committed to artistic rigor and a dedicated catalyst for dialogue and change.

BIOGRAPHY: Performance artist, writer and global agitator, Anida Yoeu Ali  is a first generation Muslim Khmer woman born in Cambodia and raised in Chicago. Her interdisciplinary performances use Butoh to examine the poetic potential of the body and collective healing. Her performance work transforms loss into conversations about reconciliation. Since 1998, Anida has toured over 300 colleges and venues with the spoken word ensemble, I Was Born With Two Tongues, and the multimedia collective Mango Tribe. The Tongues' pioneering live performances and critically-acclaimed debut CD, "Broken Speak", ignited a new generation of Asian American voices. She is also a founding member of Young Asians With Power!Asian American Artists Collective-Chicago, the National APIA Spoken Word & Poetry Summit, and MONSOON fine arts journal. Her artistic work has been the recipient of grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, National Endowment of the Arts and Illinois Arts Council. From Copenhagen to Ho Chi Minh City, Anida lectures, exhibits and performs internationally. For more insights, please visit