Benjamin Hoh

Release the Bats

About the Work

Release the Bats is about lifting the burden of always having to explain oneself to a racist society. Rather than plead that “I’m really quite nice if you get to know me,” I’m taking inspiration from one of popular culture’s best known avenging masked heroes: Batman. Unlike more affable superheroes, Batman explicitly uses his iconography to strike fear in his enemies, and in some incarnations to even grapple with his own fear of bats.

Can Asian Australians perversely appropriate the racist associations that attempt to taint us, and reanimate them for our own ends? In response to racist taunts that Chinese Australians should “go eat a bat”, the bat (through Batman) becomes an powerful symbol of avenging justice. When superimposed with 19th Century zoologist (and scientific racist) Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations of bats, with their flat faces and squinting eyes, I’m exploring and rerouting the paranoid chain of symbols that can cluster around the cross-species spillover of coronavirus from bat to human in China, making it resonate with the spillover of historically unwelcome Asian immigration into the West.

When given a deliberately Chinese framing, through re-colourisation and juxtaposition with the Chinese characters for “vampire” (jiang shi – 殭屍), Haeckel’s bat images begin to resonate with both the iconography of traditional Chinese shíshī (石獅) lions, and also begin to resemble Eiko Ishioka’s Oscar-winning suit of armour for Bram Stoker’s Dracula(1992), which contributed to the nobility of Dracula as a tragic anti-hero. Thus, in the midst of troubling stereotypes, we find dignity.

About the Creative

Benjamin Hoh is an award-winning visual practitioner, writer and design strategist whose work engages with the political agency of different human and non-human communities. He has created computer games in collaboration with First Nations storytellers, made psychogeographical maps with recently arrived refugees, coached in creativity at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and taught interactive documentary making at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. His short plays have been staged at Belvoir Street Theatre and Stables Theatre, and his articles and short fiction have appeared in Public Journal, Borderlands and Waiting in Space.