Past Event

Formosa: A One Woman Show featuring Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai

photo credit: Katie Piper

Join us for this special work-in-progress performance!

In 1566, Portuguese sailors spotted the island of Taiwan and renamed it “La Ilha Formosa” on their sailing maps. For centuries, the name, Formosa, was used throughout the Western world. From 1967 to 1987, Barbie dolls were solely manufactured in a small industrial town in northern Taiwan.

Inspired by the image of men and women working in this Taiwanese factory to create these American icons of beauty, “Formosa” is a solo show which pushes the questions of global capital, beauty, exploitation, and choice via a poetic narrative and counter-narrative contrasting the experiences of these factory workers with the material creation of this Western icon of beauty. Through poetry, multimedia, movement, and spectacle, she explores how, decades later, global economy leads women of color to strive for these same standards of Western beauty through skin lightening, eyelid surgery, jawbone shaving and other (at times) gruesome forms of self-mutilation.

Written and performed by Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai
Directed by Jesse Jou
Choreographed by Jessica Chen
Dramaturgy by Amissa Miller
Produced by Chie Morita

KELLY ZEN-YIE TSAI is a Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based spoken word poet who has been featured at over 500 venues worldwide including the White House, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Apollo Theater in Harlem, and three seasons of Russell Simmons’ HBO Def Poetry. A recent recipient of commissions and grants from New York Live Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Asian Women’s Giving Circle, Tsai has been profiled on in NYC’s Top 40 New Yorkers Who Make Positive Social’s 30 Most Influential Asian Americans Under 30, and HBO’s East of Main Street: Asians Aloud. For more info,http://www.yellowgurl.com

About the respondents: 

rachel caidor is the assistant director of the campus advocacy network at uic.  there, she provides education and training for members of the uic community on rape prevention, anti oppression, and social justice.  rachel is a founding member of the radical feminist street dance troupe, the pink bloque.  she is also a founding member of the race crisis hotline, an internet based hotline that helps survivors of racist microaggressions navigate today’s post-race / totally racist landscape.  she can be reached at
Julie Lee Merseth is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Chicago, where she studies the politics of marginal groups in the U.S. She specializes in racial and ethnic politics with a focus on immigrants and women of color. She has been a researcher with the Black Youth Project, project manager for the Mobilization, Change, and Political and Civic Engagement Project, member of Ella’s Daughters, and founding board member of the Chicago chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

Co-sponsored by Chicago Foundation for Women Asian American Leadership Council and Chicago Taiwanese American Professionals (TAP-Chicago).


This program was made possible in part by the generous support of the Joyce Foundation, improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes Region and across the country.

Free and open to the public. Reservations are required, reserve your spot here. For more information please call 312.422.5580.

If you need a sign interpreter or require other arrangements to fully participate, please call 312.422.5580. For parking locations near the facility, please visit