Asian-American Artists, Now Activists, Push Back Against Hate

Early in the pandemic, word started to travel among Asian-American artists: racist attacks were on the rise. Jamie Chan told a fellow artist, Kenneth Tam, about getting kicked out of an Uber pool ride by the driver who noticed her sniffling. Anicka Yi, an artist based in New York, called Christine Y. Kim, a curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to talk about being spit at on a Manhattan street; Kim, in turn, recounted being accosted in a Whole Foods parking lot.

Tam decided to start recording these incidents in a Google spreadsheet he named “We Are Not COVID.” It circulated on social media first among arts communities, then to wider audiences. Over the last several months, the document has filled up with reports ranging from microaggressions to outright violence.

“I had assumed that things like this were going to start happening, but not so quickly, and not to people I knew,” Tam said in a phone interview. “It made me realize that I needed to educate myself and perhaps other people about it.”

Likewise, today’s wave of activism seems less concerned about representation — inclusion of artists in exhibitions or hiring of more Asian-American museum staff — than on larger issues like the surveillance of immigrant neighborhoods, income inequality, and criminalization of sex work — that put their communities at risk.

Because of shutdowns, S.D.A’.s work has largely been visible on social media — Instagram above all. The organization has created multilingual graphics and downloadable posters, generated memes, commissioned short videos by artists, co-sponsored a Zoom webinar series titled “Racism is a Public Health Issue,” and disseminated information about resources for Asian-Americans facing discrimination and guidance for their allies.

After the uprisings sparked by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police last May, S.D.A. called on its followers to act in solidarity with Black protesters.

Its recent open letter against xenophobia and racial violence calls for alternatives to over-policing and the decriminalization of sex work. It also asks signatories to understand the way Asian-Americans have enabled or participated (sometimes unwittingly) in white supremacy, and work to dismantle it. So far, more than 1,000 artists, curators and art workers have made the pledge.

One of the key strategies for today’s artist-activists is creating visibility: calling attention to the often unseen and unnoted presence of Asian-American communities in cities and in the culture — to their labor and contributions, and to the violence acted upon them.

“The piece is part of a larger project examining 40 years of sci-fi films,” Suparak said, “and how white filmmakers envision a future that is inflected by Asian culture but devoid of actual Asian people.”

The project emerged, Suparak said, “out of an ongoing erasure and racism and violence, and how both in real life and in mainstream media our varied and unique cultures are carelessly misidentified and jumbled together.”

The newly appointed Public Artist in Residence, Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, began to work with the New York City Commission on Human Rights last August. As soon as she was hired, Phingbodhipakkiya began devising a public art project that she would take to the subways to address the way Asian diasporic communities in the city go largely unnoticed.

“The commissioner and I went for a walk in Prospect Park,” she recalled. “I’m not sure she was looking to brainstorm that morning, but I hit the ground running. I felt like there was no time to waste, and our community couldn’t take being invisible any longer. It was something I approached with extreme urgency.”

The result of the collaboration is a poster series titled “I Still Believe in Our City” installed on bus shelters, subway stations and, in a spectacular fashion, on the side of the Barclays Center. The choice of transportation hubs was deliberate, the artist said, since so many bias attacks have occurred there. Phingbodhipakkiya has also made them freely downloadable on her website.

“What continues to unfold is a shared awareness of how different our experiences are across gender, class, generation, immigration, and I think that’s actually what is exciting about this work right now.”

Aruna D’Souza is a writer and a co-curator of “Lorraine O’Grady: Both/And” at the Brooklyn Museum.

Sahred From Source link Arts

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