Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Profile: Yoshiki Araki

By Bob Lee

In 2006, the Asian American Arts Centre mounted a one person exhibition for Yoshiki Araki (1950-2000), an artist in NYC who produced a significant body of art works. His works reflected upon the experience of war as key to his generation, including his family's connection to Hiroshima, and his own mother’s experience of searching for her father in the Hiroshima ruins. It was not till many years later that Araki found his voice in NYC and started to fill his large basement in Brooklyn with preparations for a series of photo collages surrounded by paraffin wax, an ambitious project, only some of which were actually completed.  At the time of the exhibition I wrote a press release and an essay for the invitation card which can be seen online here and here.

Araki’s family, along with his widow and friends, came all the way from Japan to attend the opening. It was then that I heard of his connection to the photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, how he had come to collect books and magazines, cutting out portions of the photo images he found there, creating finely cut miniature collages from Nobuyoshi’s images and setting them in boxes surrounded by paraffin as one might set a jewel in its setting. Sexual expose became a way for Araki to reveal what Hiroshima has yet to divulge. Brendan Kennelly in his Little Book of Judas wrote, "if you want to serve your age, betray it – expose its lies, humiliate its conceits, debunk its arrogance. Condemn them to face harsher truths."

In Japan men and women may have a different relationship to their sexuality.  Certainly Nobuyoshi, or Araki as he is known in Japan, displays in his art a vision that for Westerners crosses over into pornography.  Images of bondage may not readily reveal their subtext, blockages like reliquaries locked in human tissues where traumas are stored.  Much of this kind of art work is banned and not accessible in the US. Yoshiki Araki’s work was apparently built on Nobuyoshi’s work, making it perhaps difficult for Americans to understand. With the freedom Yoshiki had in collage juxtapositions, he could be more direct, treating taboos as precious.  There he could admit more as to the scale and range of human acceptable behavior, and search for a greater human compassion to arise. 

Its been nearly eight years since his exhibition. I’ve come to wonder if rationalism is to die at the hands of mass brutality, and if what is grotesque about the human body will come to find a different meaning.

His mother when much older did learn about what happened to her grandfather, participating in a Japanese news story when a media station brought her and a witness together who saw her grandfather the day after Hiroshima, bloody, suffering and dying.

More of Yoshiki Araki’s work can be seen here and on the flickr account here. All images are from the AAAC archive.
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Thursday, November 6, 2014
no image

Dear Majority Leader Van Bramer, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, and members of the City Council.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on developing a comprehensive cultural plan for New York City. I am Robert Lee, executive director of Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC) founded in 1974. 

When I began the visual art program of Asian American Arts Centre, Asian Americans composed only two percent of the US population. However, it was not hard to foresee that this population would grow, so we maintained an active exhibition program together with an archive program, keeping records of all that we did. Since the audience for this program was not large, but we knew that interest would grow, and now that this Archive is historical, people can see what took place and how this cultural presence developed.

Similarly, ever since the immigration laws were changed, particularly by President Kennedy in1962, the Asian American population increased significantly, and community demand for social service and other programs increased accordingly. On a national scale but particularly in New York City, the impact of immigration from so many countries could be predicted, cultural change was in motion, and its scale and momentum could not be ignored.

Yet it was ignored, neglected for decades.  In Chinatown for example, tumultuous changes took place, reflecting changes in many of New York City’s neighborhoods.  Cultural organizations have struggled under these conditions, to develop, structure, and nurture activities, artistic activities that both preserve traditional forms and provide venues for new forms emerging from the creative energies of diverse artists to reinvent themselves and their culture, contributing mightily to the dynamism of New York City.

The energy of this creative productivity in communities of color took New York by storm in the eighties and became the leading American art movement for over twenty years - a movement called multiculturalism. Despite this phenomenon, funding for organization of color, particularly those born in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, organizations that led the way in presenting artists who have now become so well known, their funding has hardly increased at all. Even when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg came into office and started his tenure by donated several million dollars of his own to the Department of Cultural Affairs, a portion of these funds it was thought, would go to stabilizing these pioneering organizations, bearers of the cultural knowledge and heritage of their communities. What actually happened given the news of these extra funds was the number of nonprofit organizations suddenly increased from 600 in Manhattan to 800, and the following year more still until today there are about 1,200, all sharing about 15% of DCA funding. Thus Bloomberg’s gift was allocated in such a way that these senior community organizations never saw a significant increase in support.

This hearing for a comprehensive cultural plan is a breakthrough, wonderful news that the past can only help to augment and detail the scale of the changes it may bring. .. The past may indicate the infrastructure that should have been built to accommodate and implement. It may also indicate the blockages that need to be unblocked such that an appreciation for new voices and forms can grow. If new audiences are being introduced to Shakespeare, how much more does our city need to do to introduce innovations that speak so much of cultural forms of other lands, and simultaneously speak so vividly of the dynamism and creative assets of this city, New York City.

If we can give shape to a plan that is truly comprehensive, then we will have begun to shape an audience that welcomes and embraces the voices, movements, forms, and bodies of people and cultures new and unfamiliar. It may be said that we are planning for what cannot be planned. We need to reinvent what planning is. We need to be open and accept the unexpected. In this sense, it is like birthing of an infant. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we are in awe and filled with affection for what that may be - the future of New York City and our society.

Who said that it takes a village to raise a child? That is very much a reality, and the difference between what we have been and what New York City needs to become, to unite as a village, to take heart -- the joy, and affection for who we will become. Clearly battlegrounds of the political sort are of no use here. Our children are watching.  All the parents, grandparents, and ancestors of the cultures that we will share and become are watching too.

I am staggered by how much we will all have to let go. It’s not up to us. Its really a birthing process. Can we hope to at least develop an outline for the first stage of how this crucible will evolve?
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Thursday, October 30, 2014
Profile: Martin Wong

A Note on Martin Wong by Bob Lee, Founder of the Asian American Arts Center
Illustration for the New Yorker

Illustration of the New Yorker

Drawing of Bob Lee

Martin Wong and Bob Lee at the Minds I Reception

Uptown/Downtown Exhibition

Martin Wong on the roof of his  house
Martin Wong participated in nine AAAC exhibitions, “In The Mind’s I” Part 1 in 1987 with Benny Andrews, Raphael Soyer, and Chiu Ya-Tsai. He participated in three Open Studio exhibitions in 1985 and 1988; “Uptown/Downtown” held in DCA Gallery in 1989; “AAAC Story” held at NYU a/p/a in 2002 as well as the Tiananmen Square exhibitions in 1989, 1990, and 2014.

You can see him with me in AAAC gallery with his painting of his parents over Chinatown in the background that he did in 1982.  I went to his apartment in early 1987 where he took me to his roof and I got this picture of him with his latest painting. It was at that time he gave me a booklet with over thirty of his drawings; he got published in Eureka in 1986.

I got back in touch with Martin when I was invited to ship part of the Tiananmen Square exhibition to Hong Kong.  His round painting was too large to ship to HK so he agreed to make a rectangular one.  That was in 1990. It was later in May 1991 that an opportunity to illustrate a New Yorker magazine article came about. I had been talking to a writer for the New Yorker, Gwen Kinkead, who was doing an article on Chinatown and my landlord that came out in June 1991, so it may have been for that article or another that Martin’s work almost got published.  That's when he did a few drawings for them, and one of me working in the office.

More of Martin's work can be found here. Images from the AAAC archive.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014
Editor's Commentary on  MOCA's Oil & Water: Reinterpreting Ink Symposium

On April 27th, the Museum of Chinese in America mounted a symposia along with the exhibition Oil & Water: Reinterpreting Ink. The exhibition featured works by Qui DeShu, Wei Jia and Zhang Hongtu and will be up until Sept 14, 2014.  More about the symposia can be found here.

This was an innovative event for a community institution, echoing themes and issues that were the prerogative of mainstream institutions like the Metropolitan Museum with their exhibition Colors of Ink. MOCA’s choice of featured artists highlighted their unique perspective, with each artist having a unique background and artistic stance distinct from the art practice in China. 

The art critic Robert Morgan’s interest in the artist Wei Jia formed the basis of a panel where the two discussed Wei Jia’s traditional yet innovative approach towards ink painting. Other talks paired Zhang Hongtu with the art critic Richard Vine, artist Qiu Deshu with Joan Lebold Cohen.  The prominent lawyer Jerome Cohen concluded the talks with a discussion of censorship and the artist Ai Wei Wei. 

The symposium featured an interesting panel talk entitled “What is Asian, What is American” with Lilly Wei and Aileen June Wang, where they took up the question of Asian American art, a rarely discussed subject in academic circles. The complexity of the subject was duly noted.   

Given that the Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC) initiated discussions about the complexity of Asian American art in 1983, and has continually advocated for its legitimacy by mounting exhibitions annually for over twenty six years,  it behooves us to take this opportunity to comment on it.  
Excerpts from the AAAC's exhibition catalog, Emily, Anna & Ti Shan, 1985

Historically speaking, the idea of proposing Asian American art as a legitimate field of study was undertaken in the midst of the Asian American movement, which arose from the Anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements. Basement Workshop began on the East Coast in the late 1960s as a hub for community activism. By the 1980s, Basement Workshop was more than a decade old; their activism had shifted to the campus, where they sought to establish Asian American Studies as an academic discipline through fighting for legitimacy and tenure. In the 70s and 80s, the media deployed terms such as “Political Correctness,” “the Model Minority,” and “the Culture Wars” to critique activist efforts that arose in the 60s.

“Yellow Power to Yellow People” In front of court house at Huey Newton's Trial – Oakland , California – l969

To maintain a sense of community activism, the AAAC exhibited and featured artists in its community gallery. More importantly, the AAAC established its archive for these artists to demonstrate the historical significance and value of creating art, an idea that had little resonance among grassroot people struggling to get by. Yet community is where the Asian American movement was born and where the notion of Asian American art arose. This is where the experience of immigration is central, unifying all whose art is touched by it.  We decided to shun the mainstream art market, and its publicity/media arm. Academic institutions were also suspect, generating their own community and sense of legitimacy separate from the generative energy of real communities. We chose to establish an archive for later generations when Asian American interest would increase, and speak and write directly to the community, our audience through our own publications.  
AAAC's Eye to Eye Panel (1983)Panel: David Diao, Margo Machida, Lucy Lippard, Lydia Okumura, Kit Yin Snyder, John Woo, John Yau

For the AAAC, Asian American art was not about consumerism. It mattered little if an artist had made it in the market.  Asian American art triggered an awakening of our cultural roots, of an early 80s multi-culturalism that would transform this country, possibly set it on a new course. It was where many peoples and heritages dreamed of coming together to chart a new destiny for America. Asian American art was not then a 'next wave' that would further fuel the marketplace. For the AAAC, Asian American Art was a case study of how two civilizations collide yet interweave on countless levels. 
It is on the community level that generative forces are still active. Here, people live with all the contradictions two cultures imply, despite the jingoism of rhetoric and politics, learning how to be practical with ears to the ground, at the same time, not giving up who they are or what they believe. Supporting artists has meant having the strength and faith to explore the changes and permutations of 'Asian sensibilities', regardless of how they might be affected by trends in the market or university art departments. Awareness of artists’ feelings and inflections are vital to seeing the art, and key to understanding both the aesthetic and political issues embodied by the art. An openness and an awakening to different cultural perspective on the most basic questions of being is crucial.  
A view of Bowery Street at night
A cursory view of printed materials by the AAAC  reveals where it stood and how it functioned.  We welcomed all Asian American artists, from whether they were from Afghanistan or the Hawaiian Islands, whether they had just arrived on the shores of the US, or were here for ten generations.  We also welcomed other artists, particularly American artists, if they could submit a reasonable statement of how they were significantly influenced by Asia in their art.  Our vision guided us, our historical approach opened us so that how artists chose to innovate attracted our focus and challenged whatever interpretive skills we could find or bring to bear ourselves.

AAAC defined Asian American artists in the way they have been changed by their encounter with American culture, how they see their homeland differently, and how they may chose to express this in their art. The origin cultures of Mohenjo Daro in India and the An Yang River valley in China established civilizations different from the West. The complexities of cross cultural art do not appear on the horizon until later, when globalism created situations where an artist can be located in Korea, yet still encounter Western influences of such magnitude that their art, as well as their person changes. Experiences such as traveling to the US or to Europe remains key in shaping these perspectives.  
Zhang Hongtu “Kekou-Kele (six pack)”, porcelain, 2002
The collision of two worlds is still happening, and is now commonplace. There is no longer a question of split loyalty, except for special situations like Wen Ho Lee. The marketplace continues to absorb all in its path, and it can be argued that Asian American art is no longer viable as a way to transform society significantly. Each artist, however, had their impact, and some have shaped a path, points for others to make their own imaginative leaps. Change has happened and Asian American art was part of it. Issues of identity are now part of the mix. This history continues to be made and should be written, whatever political, sociological, and racial formations form. 
Theresa Chong "Budapest" 2008, colored pencil and gouache on paper, 25" x 36"

In writing about this situation, words can lose their points of  reference, including terms like ‘multiculturalism’ and 'China'. In the absence of new words, old words and references may become vague and ambiguous - part of the process where two worlds become one. As we become accustomed to the feel of this fluid era, we come to know it, somewhat. Bewildered perhaps, or resistant, much seems new, though in essence it may not be. How we come to see it, live with it, interpret it, becomes most critical.  A recent cartoon depicts a road sign informing a pair of lost motorists -  "you are now entering the Middle".  We might ask, the middle of what...of where?  The answer - here.
Comments from readers are welcome.  This may be the first and last time AAAC has been challenged to engage with this question explicitly.

Robert Lee
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Thursday, July 10, 2014
Danny Yung's Flower Plaque Installation at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Bamboo Flower Plaque

The Story of the Bamboo Flower Plaque

A celebratory tradition hailing from Hong Kong, the flower plaque is a product of collaboration between artist Danny Yung, chief craftsman Choi Wing Kei and his workshop, and the Smithsonian Institution. Find out more about the flower plaque here, and view some more photos of the event here.
A statue of Tian Tian

Who Is Tian Tian?
The flower plaque at the entrance to China: Tradition and the Art of Living at the 2014 Folklife Festival prominently features a character named Tian Tian. Created by artist Danny Yung, the blank boyish figure represents curiosity and the desire to learn and explore. Find out more about Tian Tian here.

Danny Yung and AAAC founder Robert Lee imitating Tian Tian's iconic pose.

Press Coverage:
The "godfather" of Hong Kong contemporary art, Danny Yung, was honored by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office after his installation for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage successfully finished its run in Washington.
Commissioned by the center, Yung was asked to create a piece that centered on the theme of "folklife" and the Shanghai-born artist produced a 40-meter-wide, 10-meter-high flower plaque bamboo installation on the National Park in Washington, garnering more than 1 million visitors during its two-week run.
The flower plaque installation — called a fa paai in Cantonese — is one of the biggest installations ever built in the Smithsonian Center's annual festival and was on display from June 25 to July 6. Titled Gateway – Tian Tian Xiang Shang, it was designed by Yung and built by craftsmen from the Wing Kei Flower Store Ltd in collaboration with the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. The fa paai is traditionally displayed in Hong Kong for celebratory events, such as weddings, family gatherings, or store openings, combining cultural heritage and artistic exchange, Yung said.
When the center initially commissioned him, Yung said he was unsure of the theme, because as a contemporary artist, he didn't know if he could make something in response to the idea of traditional folklife. But he said the importance of being able to spotlight Asian culture at a historic American location motivated him to take the challenge.
"The most important thing I wanted to do was deal with the cross-culturalism. I wanted to see how we can cope with the new challenges that's coming up [between China and the US], which have been around for quite a while," he told China Daily at the celebratory event held in New York on Monday.
"I think crossover is so important in dialoguing. If we changed our positions, I think we'll see things differently. I think we gain new perspectives and new sensitivities, so what I did with my installation is include a big wall, like the one in Tiananmen Square, but in the middle there's a gateway, so people can walk through it so that they can see where they come from, so they can learn what's on the other side," he said.
On the installation are four-character Chinese proverbs that begin with the character for "sky" — the title of the exhibit is one such proverb, meaning "to make progress every day" — which Yung said is a huge focal point in Chinese culture.
"Sky is so important in China, because China is an agricultural country. You have to look at the sky — if it rains, if it rains too much, if it's shining, if it's shining too much. All this affects the crops. So I did some studying and I traced many proverbs that start with the character ‘sky' and I collected about 160 or something, and I picked 16 of those" to display on the installation, he said.
"Everyone would agree that the four-character idiom is the essential step to understanding the thousands of years of Chinese culture," Yung said in an artist statement about the installation. "My childish opinion was that the idiom ‘look up to the sky as you conduct your life' is to remind us to watch the weather forecast, as it can help us determine whether or not to carry an umbrella when we go out; perhaps I understood the sky to represent seasons, the sun, and rain, which predicts the yearly harvest."
Featured in the installation is a statue of a mouthless child named Tian Tian who points up at the sky, symbolizing a person who's always striving to make progress every day, something that Yung said he wants to share in a dialogue between US-China artistic exchange.
"I hope new sensitivities arise from those who visit the installation], as does a new way of looking at oneself. It's one important part of cultural exchange," he said. "Creativity too, because when I create a piece of work, I think that I learn more about myself and what I don't know."

By Amy He, from China Daily. 
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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

蛾 Mothpoetica
Poetry of Moth, Man, & Migranti

"For him the earth remains flat, not round
A narrow island of fate and misfortune.
The migrant skims a torn map,
A moth unfolds its wings flying
Apart from East to the West...."
                                Russell C. Leong "Moth"

MOTHPOETICA is a spoken word performance collection conceived, written and enacted by the veteran awardwinning-writer, editor and professor Russell C. Leong (梁志英)

MOTHPOETICA is modeled after the persona of a New York City fast-food delivery man and brings together the worlds of moth, man, myth, and migrant captured in a lyric, humorous, and often soulful performance reading.  

Together with the opus poem "Moth" Leong includes other original poetic works which span Southeast Asia and the Chinese diaspora in his readings.  

"Moth" debuted at Bob Holman's Bowery Poetry Club in New York City in June 22 2014.

Themes of MOTHPOETICA range from getting a haircut in a bullet-riddled barbershop to love, sexuality and AIDS; from Asian migration to urban insurrections; and race, class, martial arts.  For his readings, Leong often works with local musicians and artists including Lorin Roser of NYC, Lei Mo in Nanjing, and others in Los Angeles and Beijing.  

RUSSELL C. LEONG is a spoken word artist, writer, editor, and university professor.  He has read poetry and given literary talks internationally at venues in Los Angeles, Beijing, Nanjing, Taipei, Kaoshiung, Kobe, San Francisco, and New York.  He was one of 50 U.S. poets featured in Bob Holman's five-part PBS series, "The United States of Poetry,"  and reads and speaks in the Annenburg Media Series on American writers. 

Leong received the American book award for "Phoenix Eyes and Other Stories," and the PEN Josephine Miles award for "The Country of Dreams and Dust." Leong, born in San Francisco Chinatown, received his formal education at San Francisco State College, Taiwan National University, and UCLA.  He has taught at UCLA, University of Hong Kong, University of Kansas, and Hunter College (CUNY) New York. 

CONTACT for readings, performances, talks and workshops:
Schools, art centers, and other venues contact the writer for availability and locale. Special rates for non-profits,and schools.

Russell Leong 梁志英

Phone: 213-479-2148  E-mail: tai88chi@gmail.com

Reviews & Presentations of Russell C. Leong's Literary Work:

Los Angeles (LA Times)
"Leong always shows us how memory and identity persist even in the melting pot of America..his acute powers of observation and his poet's gift for capturing the experience of transcendence are given full expression in the pages of Phoenix Eyes."

Educational:  Annenburg Learner Express (N. Scott Momaday and Russell Leong)

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Monday, June 9, 2014
"China: June 4, 1989" New Artist Statements - Looking Back, Looking Forward

With AAAC's "China: June 4, 1989" Exhibition soon approaching, we thought we would share some artist statements written especially for the 25th Anniversary Exhibition in commemoration of the Tiananmen Square 1989 Student Movement. These 2014 statements share the view of participating artists as they look back/ look forward from that year of 1989, as well as share what they are involved with now. As more artists submit their statement we will continue to post them to the blog. 

Don't forget the opening reception of "China: June 4, 1989" Exhibition will be this Sunday, June 1st, 5-8pm at Whitebox Art Center. See you there!

John Duff

My piece in this show as well as the previous one just after the event (Tiananmen Square) involves the use of fortune cookies, in my view a popularization of the I Ching. A layer of wet fiberglas was layed down, a cookie was broken, and the fragments as well as the fortune layed down on the wet fiberglas and then covered with a piece of dry fiberglass cloth and then resined, so it collapsed around the fragments (wet into wet) and over the fortune (which had been placed face down) forming a kind of shrink-wrapped pocket. This was done a number of times so that when the resin set up and was lifted up these pockets are seen through the flat plane of the fiberglas. This was all done within the context of a hollow frame door (a theme of the show) the inside of which had been cut out within eight inches of the perimeter. What remained of the door was painted white, and painted in red letters, extending the length of the door vertically on one side and horizontily on the other, the words "BROKEN FOTUNES". This painted door was layed down on wet fiberglass; the activity with the cookies took place within the opening cut-out of the door, and the door was picked up (after the fiberglas set). All could be seen on both sides: the words, the fragments, the fortunes. 

To me, the broken fragments of the fortune cookies represent the broken bodies of the demonstrators and the fortunes their unrealized destinies. To put it another way, on the edge of the door it`s title is written "The Host" , which is to say that the cookie becomes the bread which is transubstantiated into the body of the martyr(s).

Anna Kuo

Tiananmen: Are Body Bags Required?
"I never thought this would happen to happen to me." Today this outcry cycles too often on the news after sudden and shocking events. It's a common lament exclaimed by different people, in different scenarios in different cultures around the globe. It's 2014 and now we're lost in the virtual reality of tech devices. What does it take to wake us out of an anesthetized consciousness and brain overload? Does Tiananmen 1989 have any impact on us? My piece, entitled "Deva Invocation" was a tribute to those who passed and those left behind. More importantly it raises a personal question, "What does Tiananmen mean to me as an individual? How do I locate myself in relation to a disturbing global crisis?" In the tradition of Buddhist awareness, I believe our inner issues and conflicts become a collective energy creating larger events like catastrophic climate change, population uprisings, corruption and war.

The Tiananmen exhibition transforms art into a human aesthetic that historicizes life and becomes a country's material culture. It's a powerful vehicle of communication that supports free dialogue and forward thinking ideas. Typically governments first seek to mute the voices of students and artists when social and political disagreements surface. Must it require piles of body bags for meaningful action?

The Tiananmen rebellion is now part of a historical legacy, a domino in a chain of global events that is changing countries today. Change is constant, the karmic wheel turns and the profoundly humble, fundamental, modest, radical desire for all people is simply happiness and freedom.

For more of Anna Kuo's work see here.

Edgar Heap of Birds

America and the world must remember that forever the Statue of Liberty literally has her back turned to all Native Americans and their sovereign nations.

The welcoming freedom of "Miss Liberty" is not a positive offering to indigenous peoples of this continent; it is an invitation to murder and plunder.

The offering made is one of on going genocide, poverty, deficient educational opportunities, poor housing, very high rates of suicide, lack of political representation and dishonored treaties and promises.

Native nations lost their viability and harmonious human birthright to coexist with this earth after the violence of so-called "Liberty" was perpetrated upon countless indigenous families of these once kind lands. Today Native communities are at a severe status of recovery from brutality and loss. Will they ever truly recuperate and heal from such profound harm in the name of "Freedom"?

In regard to the naive 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration to accept and promote "Liberty" I would instead extend a vigorous warning and alarm!

Edgar Heap of Birds
A Leader of the Traditional Elk Warrior Society
Cheyenne Nation, Oklahoma 2014

Jean-Loup Msika

In 1989, we were horrified by the violent repression of chinese students, on Tienanmen square, when they asked for a little freedom.

Today, in 2014, Tibet is being invaded, more and more, and crushed, and so is Sin Kiang. Both Tibetans and Ouighours are repressed savagely. The Kurdish people would also deserve to be independent but their land is divided between Iran, Irak, Syria and Turkey, 4 murderous dictatorships. The Jewish people, on the tiny land which has been theirs for millennia, is still being threatened of a new holocaust by totalitarian regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran and by Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists. People are killing each other by the thousands, in Africa, in Syria, Irak, Egypt, Ukraine, etc ... The world is in a bloodbath because the UN are useless and corrupt, controlled by the worst dictatorships. This is all very sad...

Ian Laughlin

The Tiananmen Square events of June 4th, 1989 sparked global outcry, solidifying the power of action against oppression.

For the nucleus of my work, having watched the events on television over and over, I digitized stills from video footage of Tiananmen events, much the same way Chinese authorities did in identifying individuals who participated in the uprising.

Using the imaging tools of the time, I scanned footage using an Amiga 1000 then printed the stills out in banner form using a Canon 1080A. Co-opting the image of a placard-style Mao, typified in Chinese state propaganda stadium art, I supplanted his visage with facially recognizable images of students who took part in the uprising. Crowds of protesters with the Stateʼs inherent "amnesia directive” was declared on the verso.

I feel this work I created in 1989 is just as relevant today. Following Tiananmen, surveillance has expanded globally and exponentially, as the demand for peopleʼs self-determination has collided with Oligarch and Totalitarian States. Now the battle of the old wealth world and empire is in full swing against climate change responders and human rights activists.

Agnes Denes









Lotus Do

At the end of March 1989, I returned from an Art Exchange in the Guangdong Fine Arts Academy. Having taught art classes and lectured to unusually large art student groups on abstract compositional elements and creative problem solving techniques, my work was exhibited at the Guangdong Fine Arts Academy. The privilege of leading the American delegation of artist educators was my second participation an International Art Exchange with China. Artists, faculty, and students became fast friends; eager to learn about progressive methods of art making and art education. What a wonderful time we had learning from each other, enjoying the love of visual art and discussing creative ideas with artistic freedom. Upon returning to the USA, I maintained communication and friendships with my overseas colleagues. I happily shared news stories with them of the student movement (in China) that we were learning about.

It is my understanding that many of my new friends may have been supportive of the movement. But to this day, I cannot feel comfortable telling you this for sure!

On June 4th 1989, traumatized, I watch news images, in horror.

Personally I was deeply struck by the violent nature of the proceedings. I could not shake the personal shock.

The second painting I made personified the idealism I had witnessed in China in the faces of Artists and students I met. The first side of the door portrayed the tragedy of death swathed in an upside down anonymous body that was only implied by the news reports. I haven't seen this painted door in 20 years but the painting of it personifies The Unknown Idealist -Struck down -Swathed under the purity of a white robe or a sheet. I remember wanted to paint everything on the flip side- upside down. A world turned awry. I remember the sadness as I painted the door. I remember The Asian American Art Center as a rallying place for artists of all backgrounds to respond to what happened and to do something to bring awareness to the human rights of the young people who wanted to make a better place in their world. The Asian American Art Center promoted awareness that all people have the right to express their feelings and ideas.

Thanks to the life-long dedicated work and vision of Bob Lee for it was he who inspired his artist friends in the USA to do something!

Grimanesa Amorós

It was an honor to be a part of such an important exhibition. It was very exciting and at the same time painful times to be a part of China's history. A country that at the present moment go every year at least twice to share my work or lectures with students.

I am glad to say that all the lives we lost on Tiananmen Square open the doors for a new generation of children that are now growing under a very different reality that in 1989.

Dolly Unithan


Observed by the world, a travesty of justice occurred on June 4, 1989 at Tiananmen Square in Beijing when purportedly several hundred if not thousands of city inhabitants and students who staged a peaceful mass protest for democratic reform were massacred by the Chinese Government military tanks in a hail of bullets which annihilated countless numbers of those who took a firm but fatal stand, after the failed attempt of the government in demanding the evacuation and dispersing of the square from the growing throng of dissident occupants.

Although the rumbling military tanks with smoking guns and silenced voices of innocent victims are a long gone aftermath of the massacre, the unholy act with what must be indescribable accompanying images will linger long and haunt our halls of memory till injustice is addressed and till justice is served and done, till an acknowledgement of a grave mistake of great magnitude made and significantly meaningful acts of reparation to be made in approaches only China knows how best to proceed, will the perpetrator of such an ignominious action regain its powerful presence and growing global standing in the eyes of the World.

A mighty country as China may potentially grow to be in some many ways, this act of infamy with its bloody spill will seep and stain the tapestry of her turbulent human rights history and will contribute to her being viewed in the eyes of the World to be much less mighty a country.


When news of the final outcome of the peaceful staged protest at Tiananmen Square hit me, I went limp as my legs buckled under and I sank to the ground, feeling nothing even as my mind grappled to absorb what had occurred and to make sense of it.

The enactment of the unthinkable and the unspeakable had come to pass.

Zhang Hongtu

"Every Action Helps Us to Remember"

When I was a student in the 1950s, we trusted Mao. We believed that if we followed his ideas, not only would we change China, but we would also achieve world peace and end American imperialism. But after Mao’s actions against the Chinese people in the Cultural Revolution, and my experience of being exiled from the city and sent down to the countryside to work with farmers (along with millions of other teenagers), my trust soured into doubt and critique.

In 1982 I left China for New York to make art. Chinese art was still dominated by socialist realism, the style approved by the Ministry of Culture. I have always strived to make art that not only is pleasing to the eye but also shows my ideas about society. So in those early years I forgot everything that happened in China. I didn’t care about my nationality, identity, style or tradition. I just wanted to learn and do something new.

Then, in May 1989, I saw that people had started demonstrating and going on hunger strikes in Tiananmen Square. As the protests continued, I discovered that I was still very much Chinese. I was glued to the TV screen and recorded the news when I went to sleep. I didn’t want to miss anything, because if I were in China I would have been on strike too. For those few days, I think the people at Tiananmen felt free. A protest like that had never happened before in China’s history, and I have no idea if it will happen in the future.

After the Tiananmen crackdown, my art became more political, which led me to paint The Last Banquet and the door for the exhibition “China: June 4, 1989.” My friend told me that in China I would have been killed many times over for The Last Banquet. This only encouraged me further because in the United States I had the freedom to make this kind of art. I started cutting out iconic images of Mao from burlap, canvas, plywood and other materials. I still remember how carving out his likeness felt like a sin the first time. In China this act would be seen as “antirevolutionary” and severely punished—you simply can’t criticize Mao. But I kept cutting his image out of different materials as a form of therapy, until one day I stopped feeling bad about it.

People criticized me for not making “pure art” and said my art was a tool for politics, but I didn’t care, because these politics were my honest and true feelings. Every June 4, I think about 1989 and activist organizations like the Tiananmen Mothers—the parents and relatives of the youth killed that day who advocate for the government to admit its responsibility for the deaths. Meanwhile the party has continued to suppress any critiques about Tiananmen, the Cultural Revolution or Chairman Mao. My own website was even blocked in China for a few years. (It’s up now, but who knows how long that will last?)

Since the Chinese government prohibits all dissent, we must carry on here in the United States. In recent years I have posted images about the Tiananmen crackdown on Facebook each June 4 to remind people of what happened. Every action helps us to remember the students who were killed as well as their mothers, who are still struggling against a government that censors the anniversary of their children’s deaths.

Dina Burzstyn

My work stems from a need to recreate the world around me, to envision a less fragmented and more humane reality. Working with clay I often feel it is like a sensitive skin, receptive to emotions and transformations, which in turn serves to transform me. I made this piece inspired by a line from the I Ching "Holding together amidst dispersion", believing the desire and struggle for a just society can not be broken. More of Dina's work can be found here.
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Thursday, May 22, 2014
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Asian American Arts Centre

China: June 4, 1989

The 25th Anniversary Exhibition
In Commemoration of the Tiananmen Square 1989 Student Movement
June 1st   –  10th  2014
Opening Sunday, June 1 all day   
5:00PM-8:00PM refreshments
Closing Tuesday, June 10    5:00PM - 7:00PM
Whitebox Art Center
329 Broome Street, NY, NY 10002

In collaboration with Whitebox Art Center, Asian American Arts Centre presents, “China: June 4, 1989”, an art exhibition. The public is welcome to this beautiful gallery on the lower level, which is open from 11:00AM-6:00PM on weekdays and 12:00PM-6:00PM on weekends, from June 1st through June 10th. Curated by Robert Lee, the exhibition features works from artists that were part of the original 1989-90 exhibition. The white walled gallery with its high ceiling will be transformed into a commemoration of this much-celebrated exhibition.

Fifty artists will be participating. Some of the artists included are:  Vito Acconci, Luis Cruz Azaceta, Betty Beaumont, Luis Camnitzer, Mel Chin, Agnes Denes, Lotus Do, John Duff, Leon Golub, Billy Harlem, Edgar Heap of Birds, Ava Hsueh, Kunio Izuka, Ik Joong Kang, Donald Lipski, Lilliana Porter, Rumiko Tsuda/Daniel Georges, Dolly Unithan, Martin Wong, Sofia Zezmer, and Zhang Hongtu.  A full listing of artists can be requested. Alongside these works there will be a wall of clippings displaying news articles and mementos for those who want to learn exactly what happened - many of these will be in Chinese. 

The original exhibition, which accumulated over 300 artists at Blum Helman Warehouse in SoHo, then later at PS 1 in LIC, eventually encompassing 174 standing panels (doors) linked to form a freestanding expandable wall. Over 80 small works were also on display. Artworks represented artists from Argentina, Sweden, Britain, Italy, France, Greece, Japan, and Korea. Every piece was created in the moment of this terrible incident. Thus each piece reflects an artist’s immediate response from their own artistic and cultural stance, articulating peoples’ outcries in vivid, powerful art forms. Multiple perspectives gathered here, reflecting a truly diverse American, and in this sense, global response to expanding political horrors. Many of the artworks and the history of this terrible confrontation can be seen athere

In conjunction with the exhibition, there will be a special screening of “Portraits of Loss and the Quest for Justice”, a documentary produced by Human Rights In China with footage shot by the Tiananmen Mothers – a group of family members of those killed during the violent crackdown on the 1989 Democracy Movement. The documentary will be on view during the opening and closing receptions, at which time a staff person from HRIC will give a brief introduction of the video.  Light refreshments will be available. For more information on the Tiananmen Mothers and HRIC resources, please visit: here

 As the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student massacre approaches, the erasure from history of this incident in China seems complete. For the peoples of every other nation in the world, however, the Tiananmen Square Massacre remains an open question. Many in China have courageously stood up against this enforced amnesia— foremost among them are the Tiananmen Mothers—to press for truth, accountability, and compensation.  Twenty-five years ago, in their peaceful protests, the students laid bare their yearnings for a clean government and a more just and open society. In response, the Chinese authorities used weapons to declare to their own people and the world how unwilling they were to heed these calls, and how definitively they would try to silence them.

As a human question the tragedy and premeditation of this incident is incalculable, impacting China as well as the world. The humanity of the students was clear, and their murder by authorities an incalculable outrage. Yes, they did shoot the students. A horror magnified a thousand times by the media for the watching world. It focused and transformed the clash of Chinese political destinies into a televised drama of global proportions, imprinting itself on the human imaginary in epic dimensions. Never before was such violence turned into a spectacle with weeks to prepare a global viewership for the unspeakable to become suddenly - reality.

Now, more than ever, the international community needs to recognize this human tragedy, this global trauma for what it was and remains - a human spectacle of incalculable proportions, buried and awaiting resurrection.  The end of official impunity needs to be achieved concretely. Tiananmen Mothers have devoted the past two decades to documenting the lives snuffed out by the government’s guns, and to remind us all that this national wound needs healing, and a just resolution. To resist enforced amnesia, expose the truth and bring justice to the Tiananmen Mothers is to undo the basis for so much of the corruption that is flourishing today. However what is not concrete, the reverberations still echoing throughout the world, in the hearts of the people who were there, concretely and vicariously, they watched and saw. Their grief and outrage and humanity are still to be addressed – with justice, and with space - public space to recognize openly and remember, resolve this crime, to grieve, restore and to reconcile.  

AAAC and Whitebox Art Center welcome student groups, educators and the general public to the exhibition space in their visit to the Lower East Side. AAAC staff will be available to answer questions from the public as well as the press, by appointment.

Organizational Background
Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC) was founded in 1974. It is a 501(c)(3) that engages with artists, students, organizations, and community groups to enable the creative encounter, and preservation of their visions and knowledge through the arts. In this way the continuum of cultural values & artistic traditions – particularly those of Asia and the West – as they engage each other in local and community arenas, find vitality and renewal. The annual Visual Art Exhibition series, and the AAAC Artists Archive begun in 1983, grew until its collected materials could be processed into a professional archival environment. Its digital component – artasiamerica – went public in 2009 and serves an online historical image and document archive focused on Asian American visual culture from 1945 to the present.

Asian American Arts Centre Inc., its exhibition and education program is supported by The Bay and Paul Foundation. The support of Asian Americans For Equality and Manhattan Mini Storage/Edison Properties Inc. continues to be vital, along with the support of others like Pearl River Mart, New York Cosmopolitan Lions Club and Materials for the Arts. AAAC recognizes the support of individuals, namely Wing Tek Lum, Jody and John Arnhold, Germane Wong, John Yu, Fay Torres Yap, Charles Yuen, Susan Switzer/Daniel Orlow, Norma Tam, Jeanne Lee Jackson, Edward Ma, Dennis Donohue, May Jew, Pam Lee & Tom Chin, Roudy Leath, Wing Lee Yee, Paul O’Neill and Liz Young, Arthur Neis, Richard Kenny Esq, and the many generous friends of the Asian American Arts Centre. Special thanks to Whitebox Art Center and to Human Rights In China, and to all the artists who participated in this effort, their support helped make this exhibition possible.

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Monday, April 21, 2014
Film Screening of "Cambodian Son" on April 27!

Asian American Arts Centre is excited to co-sponsor the screening of Cambodian Son, winner of "Best Documentary" at the San Francisco CAAMFEST 2014. The NYC screening will be held at Mist Harlem (46 West 116th Street) on Sunday, April 27, 2014. This event will include a reception and a Q&A with the director, Masahiro Sugano. Please check the flier below for more information. 

Sponsored by Immigrant Defense Project, Families for Freedom, & Asian American Art Centre.

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Friday, April 11, 2014
Friday, March 28, 2014
Taiping Tianguo: Revisited

E-Flux recently presented the show Taiping Tianguo - A History of Possible Encounters: Ai Wei Wei, Frog King Kwok, Tehching Hsieh, and Martin Wong in New York. Exploring the histories of these four Chinese artists during their time in New York in the 80s and 90s, the show questions the interactions each artist may have had to one another given their overlapping time spent in the Big Apple. Furthermore, it examines what can be said about time and place in art history, as well as the development of their art practices, when looking at their works together.
Here are some photos from the exhibition:

Young Ai Wei Wei

Young Ai Wei Wei

Young Ai Wei Wei

Young Ai Wei Wei

Young & Nude Ai Wei Wei

Ai Wei Wei - Cuffs

Ai Wei Wei - Hanger

Kwok - detail of artwork

Kwok - detail of artwork

Kwok - detail of artwork

Martin Wong - artwork on book

Young Teh Ching Hsieh

Teh Ching Hsieh - One Year Prison Performance

Walking Tour on Martin Wong
As the exhibition presents, certain connections were forged between the four artists while in New York. For example, Kwok provided significant assistance for Hsieh in his One Year Performances, Wong and Ai had been friends themselves, as well as there being multiple interactions between these artists at KWOK Gallery (Kwok's SoHo gallery at the time). With the early days of contemporary Asian/ Asian American art, it is interesting to take note which artists have crossed paths and through what particular avenues. In addition, it is highly probable that the Asian American Arts Centre, also played a factor in forming the relationships between these important figures. As Bob Lee, AAAC Director, reflects on the interactions these artists had to AAAC:
"I recall Ai Wei Wei rarely came by, only once or twice did I see him hanging around and only later, in 1985 when he participated in an exhibition and helped finalize a poster for the show.  Kwok was around lots, a very friendly fun guy. We did several things with him. We hung around his home/gallery too, before AAAC exhibitions started. Martin was around but only after we had him in an open studio exhibition in 1985. I visited Teh Ching Hsieh when he set up the prison piece... but he rarely came by AAAC, only much later during his 13 year piece did he stop by to see an exhibition of his friend Zheng Liangjie in 2002."

Ai Wei Wei participated in an Open Studio exhibition called Ten Chinatown in 1985 and helped Bob Lee with the layout of the poster.  The design incorporated Martin Wong’s Chinese Opera figures. It was selected by Exit Art for their Alternative Histories exhibition in 2010 as pictured here. Ai Wei Wei's name is printed on the lower right.

While each artist spent a limited time with AAAC, their paths may have crossed or overlapped with one another during their time within this space. Moreover, their interactions were not limited to each other, but developed with other fellow Asian/ Asian American artists that participated in the Asian American Arts Centre. Such is a possibility in AAAC's first panel discussion in 1983, Eye to Eye, which brought together Asian American visual artists on the East Coast to discuss mutual concerns. It was given the name to imply that a meeting of the mind was necessary to recognize what was happening between two cultures, two outlooks. In these old pictures of the panel below, there looks to be a man that may be Teh Ching Hsieh. Though it cannot be entirely sure that this was him, these photos still give proof to the pertinent interactions of Asian American artists and their solidarity in the beginning stages of the Asian American Arts Movement. 

It is intriguing to think about the crossing paths of Ai WeiWei, Teh Ching Hsieh, Martin Wong or Kwok Man Ho because they are prominent now. As Asian American art becomes better understood and a critical consensus emerges around its role within a Western context, other artists will acquire attention, and their interrelationships may also become intriguing to think about. 

AAAC's Eye to Eye Panel (1983)Panel: David Diao, Margo Machida, Lucy Lippard, Lydia Okumura, Kit Yin Snyder, John Woo, John Yau

Eye to Eye Audience

Some of the panelists with Bob Lee AAAC curator before the start of the event, including Lucy Lippard, Margo Machida, and Kit Yin Snyder. Kwok's artwork hangs in the back.

Was this Teh Ching Hsieh? Sitting next to Nina Kuo who operated the slide projector. Eye to Eye was held June 25th and Teh Ching Hsieh's year long performance with Linda Montano started in July. The possibility is there.

Was this Teh Ching Hsieh?
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