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Before The Last Spike


Before The Last Spike links two different histories of the exploitation of immigrant workers: the garment industry and railroad construction, where Asian immigrants formed the lion’s share of the labor force. It incorporates scrap fabric collected from Los Angeles and New York garment factories. Representing the negative space and waste product generated by workers and industry, the offcuts are sewn together and manifest an embodied collectivity while betraying their discrepant multitude, retaining their original shapes, textures and colors. The offcuts are marked with the railway spikes used in the construction of the Canada Pacific Railway. This evokes archival photographs such as “The Last Spike,” which documents the driving of the so-called last spike joining the eastern and western legs of the railway: it is important to note this image features only white men, despite the fact that most railway workers were Chinese immigrants. Countering this false narrative, I either rust-dye the fabric scraps with railway spikes or imprint their shapes using the cyanotype process, which directly links the historical exploitation of migrant labor and present-day exploitation in the garment industry. The repetition of the labor-intensive process of dyeing and sewing challenges the colonial nationalist historical propaganda with the physical presence of historically and politically charged materials.

2023, fabric scraps rust-dyed with railway spikes,  76 (H) x 68 (W) inches

2023, fabric scraps rust-dyed with railway spikes, 87 (H) x 128 (W) inches

2023, fabric scraps imprinted with railway spikes with cyanotype chemicals, 83 (H) x 73 (W) inches