Exhibition in June, 2017 in Brooklyn, NY with Winslow Funaki

The expression “softly, softly catchee monkey” can also be said as “softly, softly caught the monkey”. This proverb is a native West African expression, originating in Demerara and Guyana to describe how if you are patient and determined, you can catch a monkey on a tree with its tail. Over time, European and Americans adopted the phrase to describe West African slaves being taken to South America to work in the sugar plantation. In the early 20th century, the word “catchee” begins to appear in place of of “catch” in order to falsely attribute Chinese and oriental origins to the proverb, erasing its history of enslavement.

From this proverb, we understand the history of conquest and slavery in America and orientalism intertwining and entangling through a force of oppression that is incredibly dangerous, putting nuanced racial intimacies in a violent space. It creates an incompatible space. It is a space constructed by those in power. It is an anti-black space. It is a space that always prioritizes positioning ourselves to “American” interests. It puts the colored body front and center, reminding you who you can’t be and who you can’t become.

The exhibition “Softly, Softly Catchee Monkey” interrogates intertwining legacies of Asian Americans in a bigger context of collective struggle in America. Winslow Funaki’s works play upon her own misapprehensions and partial understandings of Japanese culture to investigate the nuanced interactions between Eastern and Western cultures, identity, and orientalism. Jaeyeon Shin explores the idea of indigenous, racialized animals to combat the colonialist idea of animacy hierarchy, a way of prioritizing human life based on their raciaility.

Essay by Jaeyeon Shin: Softly, softly, catchee monkey

Winslow Funaki: Some Thoughts on Being Mixed-Race in America by Winslow Funaki

Guest editor, Jaclyn Jaconetta: America's New Racial Categorization by Jaclyn Jaconetta

Photo credit: Mark Edwards