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An Artist’s View of Hazing Rituals, Haunted by Tragedy - by Dawn Chan for The New York Times

In this new performance, The Crossing, the artist trains his lens onto the rituals of Asian American fraternities, inquiring into the ways they create belonging and identity while also adopting practices that undermine these very bonds. For Tam, these organizations offer a way for young men to negotiate the pressures of assimilation while constructing normative identities based on race and gender. These forces find symbolic urgency in the elaborate ceremonies staged by these young men, and such rites of initiation suggest the power performance has in maintaining dominant social structures and hierarchies.  

Asian American fraternities were founded in part to educate their members about historic Asian oppression by offering consciousness raising around contemporary anti-Asian racism. They provide a close-knit community that uplifts young men as they navigate life away from their families and acclimate to college environments that are often defined by white ideals of success. But these communities can also expose pledges to violence and trauma through their initiation rites—an aspect brought to light in the tragic case of Michael Deng, a freshman at Baruch College who in 2013 died while being hazed. Tam’s performance probes how multicultural fraternities represent the search for male intimacy, the way masculinity is used to negotiate cultural identity, and the ritualization of violence within all-male spaces.

For The Crossing, Tam will work with a group of performers to create a piece that pulls from the structure and choreography of highly stylized probates—the public unveiling of new fraternity pledges. Recognizing the symbolism of these ceremonies as a type of rebirth—the erasure of one identity and the emergence of a new one within the context of the fraternity—Tam will also look to Taoist funeral rites, ceremonies that shift the focus away from death and onto the value of life and caretaking by spirits. 

Curated by Lumi Tan

Performers: Martin Richard Borromeo, James Lim, Paulina Meneses, Resa Mishina
Lighting Designer: Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew
Contributing Choreographer: Alyssa Forte
Sound Supervisor: Ian Douglas-Moore
Video Supervisor: Ross Karre
Camera operators: Adele Fournet, Merve Kayan, Felipe Wurst
COVID-19 Supervisor and Stage Manager: Randi Rivera
Lighting and Production Assistance: Mike Faba
Costume Production: Curie Choi
Photographs by ©Paula Court