Sunday, August 13, 2017
Mo Bahc Painting from 1989

August 2017   After so many years a painting of the late artist Mo Bahc, known now are Yiso Bahc has been found. The painting/collage from 1989, originally painted for AAAC’s CHINA: June 4th exhibition marking the massacre of students in Tiananmen Square, is titled, People+Army=PeoplesArmy. About 24” in width, framed and sealed, the clever wit yet strongly felt image ties together what happened in China 1989 and what is happening today with Pres. Trump threat to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea could repeat the dark logic of that time and bring us again to the edge of disaster. The Tiananmen Sq. exhibition itself, originally retained to exhibit in China, seeks a permanent home where its historical and artistic significance will be appreciated. Consisting of over a hundred artworks, interested parties please contact AAAC for details.
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“So many I’ve had the chance to support, to see them all together, recognizing what they achieved, I feel fulfilled. How many years its been, regardless of how it happened -
I just want to congratulate each one, such a wonderful event marking a historic moment. Having An/other NY, a young new group pay tribute to them, and seeing how the cultural situation is morphing,  its clear what I did in the 80s and Godzilla did in the 90s has established Asian/Asian American art’s presence on the American landscape, laying a foundation for the future. As a second generation Asian American my concern for establishing a home on these American shores – a cultural acceptance – for people of Asian decent is no longer. We have a cultural voice, and its Asian inflections hold no small significance. We have a vital place in the discourse on visual arts and in the institutions where the public can access them, and in the contested spaces where cultural confrontations reinvent us anew.  I didn’t know I would ever see this day when I started. Amazingly its here.  Thanks to all who made it happen.” Written after the Godzilla event at Gallery Korea on May 23rd2017 by Bob Lee, Asian American Arts Centre.

From Godzilla’s Wikipedia page:
“Godzilla Asian American Arts Network was an arts collective and support network started in 1990 for Asian Americans. Founded on the premise that they did not have a suitable organization to promote, support and encourage their visual arts, Godzilla's founding members sought to fill this void.”

In the three interviews of the founders of Godzilla conducted by Alexandra Chang, see -  - it is clear they were working at or with the Asian American Arts Centre at that time. 

How many years we had been working together nor how the split occurred will not be written here. .Suffice it to say their split from AAAC affected operations severely, the impact lasted for too many years,,, I too buried it at the advise of my board thinking that the AAAC archive is the best place to leave this story for those who want to know how change in grassroots activism really takes place within the context of late capitalism.* Now it’s clear that such things will not be unearthed, old wounds will not be allowed to heal with myths too popular to fade, and another revival is about to take place on August 10th. Only by choosing no longer to suppress them, to bring them into the light after so many years, will reconciliation be felt by those most effected. It’s good to know many Godzilla artists had no notion of what happened at the start and the work they did came from a positive place.

About a year or so later while working with TAAC, The Association of American Cultures, I came to visit Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio, the oldest African-American theater in the US. In speaking with the director she shared with me their experience. Gathering African American artists together they developed a program to train them for the larger art world and when completed, ushered them out into this world. They met with such rejection that the artists returned and attempted to shut down Karamu House. When I heard this I remembered my own experience, how it felt like an embargo around Cuba, those years were hard. That's when I realized this was not a phenomena affecting only my organization nor only Asian Americans. The larger dynamics of the mainstream is not to allow an ethnic community to have strong leadership or any effective infrastructure other than in its own enclave. This is not the place to argue such questions. What became clear for me was such disputes within people of color communities and families were that people became merely pawns in a larger political/cultural contest
From left: John Allen, Nina Kuo, Lynne Yamamoto, Tomie Arai, Ryan Wong, Charles Yuen, Helen Oji, Herb Tam, Arlan Huang, Eugenie Tsai, Zhang Hongtu, (Sung Ho Choi not pictured).

Much is made of economic opportunity but in an ethnic community, particularly for Asians, we have to break our ethics of modesty, learn to be self promoting if not aggressive, exploit our own people to advance in a context where money means everything. Thus the idea of poverty pimps came to apply to non profits. When my generation were all volunteers at Basement Workshop in the early 70s and government grants were offered us, we knew what had to be done if we wanted to continue our work. When most of the volunteers left Basement years later it was because the way funding was allotted in the support of staff who had to have a way to live. Thus when actions were taken for our community or for artists, our motives were seen as tainted, even corrupted. The ethics of self gain as fundamental to society led in an ethnic enclave to tolerating this as a secular sin such that the natural tendency to gratitude was undermined. These and other factors may help to shed light on how to understand an ethnic community and the split with AAAC.

When artists as sensitive beings, had to fight for their identity, their humanity, to survive the streets of NY, our culture could only make a place for this as a fight for recognition, for status. (Asian American Art: A Community Based Perspective March 1997 in a Brandywine Workshop catalogue – Impressions: Contemporary Asian Artists Prints) It was called identity politics. Bumping into one another in a crowded subway even can be taken personally, a misunderstanding can be construed as a betrayal. Aside from the melodrama of betrayal that sells so many films, in NYC betrayal as a human perception has become a norm. Yet this is how I felt.

Whether it was my personality or my training as a historian, apparently I could not realize my goal as stated in 1983 at the Eye to Eye artist panel talk of enabling all to share and work together. As a curator I did what curators do in organizing exhibitions. So much for applying a historical approach to a contemporary context.  

Helen Oji with Charles Yuen & Herb Tam    
The tactic I evolved of an annual continuum of thematic Asian American art exhibition programs - repetition of the same refrain, a seemingly innocuous norm when there was no such thing on a societal level as Asian American art though there was Black art and Hispanic art - came about as a survival tactic
--- given the context of the 60s assassinations including Bruce Lee & his son, FBI Chinatown deportation raids in the 50s & IWK (I Wor Kuen where I was cadre) surveillance in early 70s, in 1969 asserting our cultural difference as Asian-Americans within the mainstream of Lower Manhattan at Basement, police violence in Newark in 68’ where I was raised, & decimation of the Black Panthers in 60s/70s, gang repression of IWK and AAAC in the 90s (see the New Yorker Magazine June 17, 1991 Gwen Kinkead pp56-84), the closing of Park Row by NYC Police Dept., being ignored and blackballed by pro Taiwan forces for anyone pro mainland China, being blackballed by the NYC press for several months based on quality, not race, as the only acceptable basis for exhibitions, and beginnings of Patient Rights at Gouverneur Hospital in early 70s with Chinese language rights being finally vouchsafed by the HHC (Health & Hospitals Corporation). Aside from barely survivable funding, a minimum was structured as visual events that open the door for cultural growth.

Godzilla artists I supported before 1990 worked together to achieve what AAAC saw as its mission. From 83’ to 90’ AAAC exhibited over forty Godzilla artists in twenty two exhibitions. AAAC continued support of several Godzilla artists throughout the 90s and beyond, ie., Charles Yuen, Arlan Huang, Colin Lee, Sung Ho Choi, Tomie Arai, Bing Lee, etc. The initial break with AAAC however hostile, freed Godzilla from the tone I had set, historical and serious to social and media savvy. The sensibility of a youthful, rebellious generation will out.
Zhang Hongtu with Eugenie Tsai & Sung Ho Choi       
Hidden in silence for twenty plus years, this story was mentioned in an essay of Young Park that was never published. Written in 2002 for the AAAC Story exhibition titled AAAC: its History of Reintegration, she wrote on page 9 of 15 pages "...Asian American Art community could have been much more powerful and generated strong impact ... I believe that the lesson between Godzilla and the Asian American Arts Centre would make their next generation vigilant and alert of their opportunities for forming a solid cultural unit of Asian American Art in the United States..." – maybe, but AAAC continued, key important exhibitions happened and continue to this day, issues of identity have found their place among many issues that give shape to art.  Thus from the vantage of this moment, Asian American art has established itself as a historical phenomena at minimum among many contemporary art circles. Public exhibitions as actions with printed cards documenting for its audience a message and action on a regular basis, even with minimal publish reviews, impacts consciousness, awakens others to action, and becomes part of the flow of the art community.
Lillian Cho, formerly of the Asian American Arts Alliance speaks from the audience
In 1994 the sudden news of Chinese contemporary artists signaled a shift of the art market, the next wave transformed perceptions of contemporary Asia through its art. That this signal was delivered by Asia Society indicates how well orchestrated is the American public's news about who Asia is becoming. This also indicates the significance of Asian American art is far beyond domestic borders.  After 911 the wars of South East Asia move to the Middle East, Muslims become the next racial target, OWS responded to the 2008 international financial crisis but it could not maintain the pressure, and now the Alt/Rt. presents us with alternative truths – another media driven perception. The media itself has transformed our attention and become part of the art culture that has merged Asian/Asian American art with the international Asian art spectacle (as in Field Meeting:Thinking Practice). The particular sensibility that Asian American domestic concerns bring has overlapped with art in Asia, and are yet raised in the public arena by Black Lives Matter, gentrification, immigration, and re-zonings, and they have become embedded in the art of local, regional, market and ethnic communities. The world is an aesthetic place, yes, and as we make a case for a multiplicity inclusive of Asia in each city’s tumultuous urban bubble our choices need to make space for what Gordon Hempton calls “One Square Inch of Silence”.
For every non profit who was not appreciated for what they gave, Margo Machida's, not my own arrogance and shortcomings, are listed here:  
           She benefits from AAAC actions at the following events:

 Panelist on Eye To Eye  with Lucy Lippard, John Yau, etc 1983 ; Artists-in-Residence - a nine month residency 1984-85 ; AIR organizer, participating artist & speaker in a Symposium on Contemporary Asian American Art  - May 1, 1985 ;  Two Person exhibition with Charles Yuen entitled “Orientalism” April / May 1986 ; Artists Selection Committee & Wrote Exhibition Introduction for Roots to Reality II: Alternative Visions  Oct / Nov 1986 ; Chosen for a three person exhibition entitled “The Mind’s I, Part 2  with Luis Cruz Azaceta and Robert Colescott    March / April 1986 ; Guest Curator for Invented Selves  December 1988 ; Conference participant - Independent Curator/Cultural Critic   “The Players: Asian American Art”    A conference co-sponsored by AAAC & Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program & Institute at NYU)  with the AAAC Story exhibition  June 1, 2002 ; selection panelist for 12th Annual Exhibition: Contrary Equilibriums (A collaboration with The Korea Society)  Sept / Nov  2002   (This and more can be found at )
John Allen, Arlan Huang, & Colin Lee
Allexandra Chang’s book:  In the exhibition at the New Museum organized by Gregory Sholette in 1998 entitled Urban Encounters, six NYC art collectives were presented including Godzilla. Installed on the wall at the opening there was a large panel with the name of Basement Workshop on the top. On the bottom row was the name of Godzilla: Asian American Arts Network. In the middle was the name Asian American Arts Centre indicating the sequence how Godzilla evolved.  In Alexandra Chang’s book Envisioning Diaspora, Asian American Visual Arts Collectives: From Godzilla, Godzookie, to the Barnstormers on page 82-83 she displays a timeline poster, From Basement to Godzilla: The Legacy of Asian American Activism in the Arts. This timeline obscures the relationship between AAAC and Godzilla that the New Museum wall panel presented.  It did however hint at the relation between AAAC and Basement which Alexandra knows well since she was once staff with AAAC and was hired also to video document an AAAC event (Nov.03’) held upon the return of one of the seminal founders of Basement, Danny NT Yung where many of his friends were invited. (Dannys papers from those years are available to serious researchers through AAAC.)

Aside from a note on the New Museum’s exhibition I should mention a bit more about media. It is not lost to me that this effort at resolution is initiated and implemented on Steve Jobs computer.  The last thing he gave to all his friends was Yogananda’s book, the book that aided in his realization of intuition as his greatest gift. Yogananda himself completed his autobiography just after a nuclear weapon fell on Hiroshima. A recent film on his life indicates he returned to the US, despite the racism which drove him away to counter this global trend. The American astronaut Edgar Mitchell would have agreed with his intuitions given what he saw from his capsule's bubble. I would not be surprised if several Godzilla artists would agree also. Let then intuition have the final say on this matter. And let intuition guide us through our own tangled paths to the art and world we seek. 
Bob  Lee
Solar System by Charles Yuen   
* We are not free from the vanities and egoism that is common in a culture dependent on competition, just as no one is free of racism, of bias when it is so prevalent everywhere.  We can be critical of biases and point to them with righteous indignation, but that does not mean we ourselves are free of them.  In the 80s at CAPA's Annual Heritage Festival, with nearly fifty tables spread across Lincoln Center plaza, the cultural area was filled, each table a different Asian American organization, and each had their own T-shirt for sale. I remember how those on the next table looked so loathingly at our T-shirts. It was natural. Not Nature. Its capitalism. The worsening of these sentiments is what I refer to as Late Capitalism. That's what has come to a crisis now touching on everything, including NYC Cultural Plan ( - unequal power dynamics and the struggle for equity and the pretense of justice.

Art Slam at AAAC jointly sponsored with Godzookie Nov. 15, 2003
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Thursday, July 20, 2017
Fatal Love; Lucid Dreams and Distant Visions

This summer the Queens Museum in conjunction with the Asia Society’s Lucid Dreams and Distant Visions: South Asian Art in the Diaspora hosted a three-day event that brought together renown South Asian American artists, academics, and curators. The symposium, titled Fatal Love: Where are We Now?, celebrated contemporary South Asian American art and explored issues concerning the South Asian American diaspora.

Photo by Bob Lee
This event was not the first the Queens Museum hosted. Back in 2005, the museum hosted a very similar event, called Fatal Love: South Asian American Art Now. This symposium was created and curated as a response to the increased policing of South Asians in the post-9/11 era and the growing South Asian American artistic community. Since then, there have been significant changes in the South Asian American community and art world. Fatal Love: Where are We Now?, as its title indicates, asks and answers where the South Asian American artistic community is now, twelves years later. It is a sequel to the first Fatal Love, yet also the first of its kind: delving into new, interesting topics.  

Photo by Bob Lee

This year’s three day event held back-to-back performances, panels, and lectures, all of which were recorded and can be viewed on the Queens Museum’s YouTube page. Day 1, which was held at the Asia Society, included an introductory speech by those who made this even possible a panel discussion called Double Duty: Agency and Cultural Production. The following two days were held at the Queens Museums and included panels discussions from sculpture and photography to public art and queer theory. These panels were not only about the art pieces, but larger issues at hand.

Photo by Bob Lee
In addition to these panels and performances, the open exhibit included works by Shahxia Sikander, Kanishka Raja, and Jaret Vadera and many more. Furthermore, AAAC has exhibited various artists from this exhibit including Chitra Ganesh, Mariam Ghani, Vandana Jain, Naeem Mohaiemen, and Zarina. These artists used different mediums and engaged in different dialogues.

Shahzia Sikander, Eye-i-ing Those Amorial Bearings, 1989-97, vegetable, dry pigment, tea on wasli paper.

Add caption Kanisha Raja, I and I (TRANSLATE); SW1, 2015-16, handwoven cotton thread, hand embroidered silk, acrylic pain, and UV-cured solvent-based inks on cotton.
Jaret Vardera, Emperor of No Country, 2016, print on fabric. 
Fatal Love accomplished -- most spectacularly -- in bringing together artists, curators, academics, and the public to have a rich and engaging dialogue about the issues confronting the South Asian American community, particularly in light of the recent 2016 presidential election. It is an event the Queens Museum should continue to host in the coming years, as they should continue to ask: Where are We Now?
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A Tribute to Toshio Sasaki

This year marks 10th year since world-renown sculptor and architect, Toshio Sasaki (1946 - 2007), passed away. He was one of the main artists AAAC worked with during his long career. By the end, he vied to bring his aesthetic ideas to the World Trade Center memorial and came close to achieving it. To commemorate him and his work, this summer the OSSAM Gallery in Brooklyn hosted a memorial exhibition that included his works, as well as works by well-known artist, Osamu Shimoda (1924 - 2000). These two extraordinary artists, born in Japan and later based in the United States, bridged the gap between the East and the West. Sasaki, in particular, fused the East and West in his creative and illuminating sculptural and architectural designs.

Born in Kyoto, Japan in 1947, Toshio Sasaki studied art and architecture at the Aichi University of Fine Arts. He later moved into New York City in 1974, creating fantastic works in public spaces. In 1988, he exhibited Sun Gate, a drawing, for AAAC’s Exhibit for Public Art in Chinatown and it was later included in AAAC’s catalogue.

Sun Gate by Toshio Sasaki, 1988 

The piece is a sketch of the Manhattan Bridge and an idea for a monument to its entrance. According to Sasaki, “I hope the Gate will impart a new ‘time’ irradiation to the old society, and traditional meanings. I think of this Sun Gate rising like a phoenix from the ashes of its own urban past.” Although the gate was never constructed, it shows Sasaki’s understanding of complex geometric forms and principles, as well as his knowledge of the neighborhood and its history. 

Sasaki’s interest and creativity in designing monuments was translated in his submission for the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition in 2003. His memorial entry, titled Inversion of Light, was a moving creation that sought to incorporate the four universal elements: light, water, air, and earth. For Sasaki, each element represented a different aspect of being and living. The memorial, which included a wall of names, a street-level park, and a reflection pool, was to be a serene, peaceful place for remembrance and contemplation. Sasaki emphasized that his memorial was to be a “living memorial,” one dedicated to peace, truth, and posterity. While Sasaki’s proposal was ultimately not selected, like the Sun Gate, this entry pushed the boundaries of memorial architecture. To learn more about and see Sasaki’s design, please visit this link:

Back in the fall of 2012, AAAC visited Sasaki’s studio, maintained by his wife, Miyo Sasaki. She works to support young Japanese artists, providing them with studio space and general support. While the studio is a space for this new up-and-coming artists, it is still home to Toshio’s work. To learn more about and see Toshio Sasaki’s studio, please read the 2012 article: More recently, Miyo has created and completed a video about her husband. This short video, not currently available for public viewing, was a retrospective, documenting Sasaki’s great accomplishments throughout his life. Please reach out to AAAC or Miyo Sasaki to learn more about this video.

Although it has been 10 years since Sasaki’s passing, his ingenuity and artistic talent continue to live on in the art communities he was a part of. As an accomplished artist, sculptor, and architect, Sasaki had a profound effect on the aesthetic and artistic concepts of geometry, space, and time. He is a pioneer in the Asian and Asian American arts world.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017
Archival Alchemy: South Asian Women's Creative Collective

Archives play an integral role in daily life, yet they often remain obscured or overlooked. They allow viewers to receive glimpses of the past, of a life that they never experienced, and help reconstruct history; They become a foundation of knowledge and information for the academics and curious; They contribute to the formation and continuous evolution of identity. The form archives take are not restricted by documents, literature, or visual mediums: in fact, they are all around us. The clothes we wear, the objects we possess, and the things we carry on a daily basis: these are only a handful of examples of archives, items that can be used to reconstruct history and transform identities. The contributions archives make are, again, often disregarded or obscured because there are not many people who can identify the numerous forms they can take on. Thankfully, at the Abrons Arts Center, the true extent of archives was exposed.

Archival Alchemy
Photo by Bob Lee
Archival Alchemy: South Asian Women's Creative Collective was an exhibition, curated by Saisha Grayson, that used an assortment of archives in order to explore issues relating to assimilation,  marginalization, representation, and identity. Thirteen female South Asian artists contributed pieces that examined the history and present stance of South Asian women. Here is an official statement from South Asian Women's Creative Collective:

"At a moment when South Asian communities, women, and immigrant neighborhoods like the Lower East Side are being targeted by an evidence-averse administration, ​this exhibition will also offer an opportunity for nuanced reflection on the complex global and personal histories that shape conflicting views of our contemporary moment. Several works explore the role that archives play in creating official histories, papering over dissent and managing the disappearance of non-citizens, while others present or produce counter archives that resist such erasure and offer strategies for empowerment."

At the exhibition, an assortment of aesthetically-pleasing and personal pieces were displayed, all which provided political and social commentary on the lives of South Asian women. Here are a few examples of the pieces featured in the exhibition:

I Never "Ask for It" by Blank Noise:
Gathering together thousands of garments worn by those experiencing sexual harassment or violence, the ongoing project "counters the lie that women 'ask for it' through calmative, collectively-built testimonials reporting the truth of widespread, unchecked, unprovoked sexual aggression." The individuals who submitted clothes are labeled as "Action Heroes" -- ordinary citizen-participants taking action to tackle sexual assault. The diversity in styles -- children's cartoon t-shirts, modest cardigans, beach dresses, sweatshirts, and pajamas -- proves that "there is no outfit that women can wear that will stop what is ultimately a societal problem -- an entrenched rape culture that extends from excusing 'locker room talk,' ignoring street harassment, shame sexual assault victims, and failing to punish rapists, abusive spouses, and murderous partners to the full extend of the law." The display was supported by both text and audio clips.

 Garments Worn by Women Experiencing Sexual Harassment or Violence
Photo by Baie Rogers
 Garments Worn by Women Experiencing Sexual Harassment or Violence
Photo by Baie Rogers
The Scheherazade Project by Amy Khoshbin*:
The Scheherazade Project is a multimedia project that "merges live performance and an original score with animated Persian illustrations, images from the Iranian Revolution, found and newly created film footage, and immersive video game tropes to explore the power of storytelling, past and present." To view the entire feature, please feel free to click the link provided:

A Snippet from the Video
Photo by Baie Rogers
Another Snippet from the Video
Photo by Bob Lee
*The AAAC has written an extended piece about Amy Khoshbin. Please feel free to find the post on our blog.

Past and Present by Zinnia Naqvi:
Naqvi's series "uses family albums as a dynamic archives through which intergenerational identity construction and legacies of migration can be more precisely understood." There are two sets of photographs: one is an archival image that presents an migrant parent standing in their countries of origin; the second photograph is Naqvi's attempt to restage the original photograph using the parent's children. The process "reveals resonances that derive not only from familial resemblance, but from the children's tendency to be drawn towards or to create environments that offer points of connectivity."

Zinnia Naqvi's Project Past and Present
Image From Booklet
A Close Up
Photo by Bob Lee
Troy Towers by Patience Rustomji:
In her piece, discarded objects collected from her apartment complex are placed into glass vases, of all shapes and sizes, and are submerged in "cooking oil and spices traditionally used to preserve food" that were repurposed from her mother's kitchen. Rustomji "attempts to create an 'eternal present' for this imagined by invisible community by transforming detritus redolent of urban dislocation and alienation into 'a personal archive of desire, fantasy, and longing.'"

Patience Rustomji's Troy Towers
Image From Booklet

Another Vantage Point
Photo by Bob Lee
Perfect Love and Other Stories by Marium Agha:
Constructed with embroidery, recycled imagery, and found tapestries, Agha "dissects myths of love that accumulate across cultures, obscuring real experiences that run counter to formulaic fairytales." The rabbit featured in below is flayed, exposing threads and muscles. The pieces -- not displayed below is portrait that recreates Alice's White Rabbit, only it is instead made up of yarn and rope on fabric -- "court sensuous responses that, like their subject, exceed rationality."

Marium Agha's Perfect Love and Other Stories
Photo by Bob Lee

Index of the Disappeared by Chitra Ganesh and Miriam Ghani:
Following 9/11, there was a drastic shift in views towards security, privacy, Muslims, and immigrants. The ongoing archival project "is continually expanding to reflect the proliferating bureaucratic and legal mechanisms, and to appose the shift towards secrecy surveillance, and censorship, that have accompanied an unprecedented of disseverances, deportations, renditions, and detentions since 2001." The Index also provides "documents tracing the connections between increased immigrations enforcement and chilled speech, racial profiling, media representations of people of color, prison labor, the private prison industry, abuse in detention, corruption in ICE, militarization of the US-Mexio border, and the xenophobic histories of the 96 Laws, Japanese internment, and the Asian Exclusion Act."

The Index of the Disappeared 
Photo by Bob Lee
100 Days/16 Years
Photo by Bob Lee
Archival Alchemy achieved so much within it's small space: the exhibition provided a platform for an often overlooked demographic -- South Asian women -- to present their voices; the installations helped highlight complex but relevant issues that continue to shape the lives of every individual; the artists who contributed work brilliantly reminds viewers that archives are more than items: they are our stories and our identities.

On May 7th, Many of the Artists Held a Panel to Discuss Their Work
Photo by Bob Lee 
For more information about Archival Alchemy: South Asian Women's Creative Collection
For more information about the Abrons Art Center:
For more information about Blank Noise and their ongoing project I Never "Ask for It"
For more information about Amy Koshbin:
For more information about Zinnia Naqvi:
For more information about Patience Rustomji:
For more information about Marium Agha:
For more information about Index of the Disappeared 
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