In a newly commissioned multimedia installation, artist Sunny Leerasanthanah uses invasive species as a lens to look at human immigration and xenophobia in the United States.
In one video, three actors role-play as American National Park Service rangers and respond to prompts about invasive species. The improvisational performances deconstruct xenophobic ideas and language, using satire as a guiding tool to explore lived experiences and belonging.
In a second video, a collection of audio recordings taken in nature accompanies Leerasanthanah’s use of multicolored lights that are cast upon macro views of the environment, such as a single blade of grass or waves crashing on a beach. These intense close frames, bathed in vivid hues, create alien-like forms and horror film innuendos. They suggest ulterior motives of entities that might overtake an environment in its entirety.
Amongst these nature scenes, Leerasanthanah includes text from the government, news articles, the National Park Service, biologists, and writers who work at the intersection of nature and culture. These address experiences with and attitudes toward invasive species. However, Leerasanthanah compiles the texts to establish a double entendre; the content could be promoting xenophobia and maintaining American cultural and political values that deny the freedom of foreign-born bodies.
Leerasanthanah’s reflection on the similarity in language and discourse used regarding both invasive species and xenophobia speaks to her own experience in survival and assimilation in the United States as a queer immigrant of color. The foreboding aesthetic of her work describes the future of existing in a culture with anti-immigration beliefs that establish fear and control over American traditions, lifestyles, and family structures.
Image: Sunny Leerasanthanah, Certain Aliens, 2023; HD Video. Courtesy of the artist.