Sunday, August 13, 2017
Mo Bahc Painting from 1989

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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Godzilla and Asian American Arts Centre

“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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