Back When It Was Said To Me I Had No Right...
Recalling some exhibitions and memories:
I was born and raised in Newark NJ in the Black, Puerto Rican and downtown neighborhood, apart from the Chinatown that barely existed back then. My family’s laundry was four blocks from the area where the riots of 1968 broke out. When Black students took over the law building on Rutgers local campus I was with them. When many years later my father mentioned that someone came by the laundry, said something was going to happen that evening, and he need only take a chair and sit outside in front of his plate glass façade, and nothing will happen to his store. Clearly this was a planned uprising, not a riot. When AAAC mounted the Ancestors exhibit an Asian American artist said to me I had no right to do such a show. I knew I had every right.
Dr. Alan Crite created a body of work that recorded life in the South end of Boston. He started working as an artist for the US government through the WPA. For decades he worked with African American churches. He mentored and encouraged many African American artists. Artists at Northeastern University would call him father. He took under his wing the artist Lotus Do and she is forever grateful for his mentorship. As board member and chair of The Association of American Cultures (TAAC), I brought Alan Crite to their bi-annual national conference, to promote and generate the collection of papers and oral histories documenting the relations between African and Asian American individuals and communities. Unfortunately we never received the support of foundations to continue this.
Ancestors: a Collaborative Project with Kenkeleba House
This public exhibition was designed to encourage the act of paying homage, not only to one’s own ancestors but those of our neighbors, the ancestors of another people. It paid tribute to all America’s forebears, whether they be Asian, African, European, Latin American, or Native American. By focusing on two, Asian and African American ancestors, it recognized that the rites and beliefs of diverse people permeate society as a whole and that acts of homage are fundamental to the development of the sense of community.
“…we recognize the wealth of our heritage as Americans and encourage the act of paying homage
to all the Ancestors of this Land”
Organized by Corrine Jennings & Robert Lee
Mounted at Kenkeleba House 214 East 2ed Street & at Asian American Arts Centre 26 Bowery
Artists Participating: 24, including several Afro-Asian artists and five Afro-Asian Collaborating artists.
Exhibition Flyer for “Ancestors,” Asian American Arts Centre, 1995.
Participating artists in Ancestors:
Camille Billops Lotus Do Brooks
Roy Hiro Calloway Albert V. Chong
Simone Leigh Richard Mafong
Sana Musasama Helen Oji
Howardena Pindell Yoland Skeete
Thomas Vu Daniel Anton Wong
Elaine Wong Lily Yeh
Lui Lan Ding / Robert Craddock Eunju Kang / Charles Burwell
David Higginbotham / Toshinori Kuga Hyon Joo Kim / Prestone Jackson
Lisa K. Yi / Faith Ringgold
Untitled. Salt fired stoneware, 2006. Approximately 25 inches high.
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In 1987, several African American artists participated in the four-part Mind’s I exhibition. Robert Colescott, Alison Saar, Benny Andrews and Albert Chong, an Afro-Asian artist, participated with several other diverse artists. The accompanying essay noted: that the African American novelist Richard Wright, wrote of psychological siege as a normal state for persons of color.
Aunt Winnie's Story 30x20 inches 1995 thermal transfer print on canvas with incised copper metal
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In “Betrayal/Empowerment I” held at Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1994 its written, “one of the stories of Asians in America is a story of betrayal. Carlos Bulosan, a renowned Filipino novelist wrote as early as 1938 of the condition of the pinoy (Filipino) as one of betrayal. “ This is suggestive of a kinship between an African and Asian American sensibility.
Joseph Goto Untitled #21 , 1979 welded steel
Sui Kang Zhao Fluorescent Pamphlet 1992 Fluorescent light, pamphlet, transparencies
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In “We Count! The State of Asian Pacific America” in 1993, held in the Court House, adjacent to City Hall the catalogue essay “Towards an American Covenant With Difference” stated: …a national program should be implemented to promote a cultural/artistic dialogue, such that the gaps in understanding and communication between diverse peoples and traditions that has existed for so long are overcome. Such a program would prioritize diverse organizations and artists. It would be based upon major initiatives to reverse the racial precepts and exclusionary policies of preceding decades. It would recognize an American covenant with difference is an important precondition for participation in an interdependent world.” http://artasiamerica.org/artist/detail/71
Banners of Martyrs (Victims of Police Violence) 348x40 inches 1993 site-specific installation
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The theme of ancestors continued with The Reintegration of Tradition into Contemporary Art in 1999 where it points to, “…what cultures share in their spirituality without raising their separate characteristics. The three sectors that describe American life (the marketplace, deliberative processes of democracy, and the civic sector) may have omitted their dependence on the fourth. Their roles in the public arena cannot do their work without a mindfulness of the ‘larger silence’, and the great diversity of beliefs this republic has yet to encompass.” A material and secular society tends to overlook the higher realm where spirituality and its silence tends to be drowned out by the noise and commotion of the chaos endemic to modern political processes.
Topaz 16x20 inches 1945 oil on canvas Created in Topaz, UT
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In 2007 the exhibition Mixed Skin was held with Kip Fulbeck, Dorothy Imaguire & Toni Thomas and essays by Teresa Kim & Albert Chong, artists of mixed Asian descent & mixed African roots made manifest proudly this question of mixed identity. To celebrate the identity of Hapa as a heart centered relationship, a basis for family, and for society’s diversity, was something AAAC could do.
Hapa, Sansei Project, 1992, Pastiche Kimonos, Mixed 3rd generation Japanese American project creating kimono garments from fabrics representing an individual’s ethnic heritage.
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Yes, we were celebrating Asian and African relations and cultural ties. We were recognizing a similarity in the mental impact of oppression both faced. We acknowledged the issue of skin and the hurdles it placed before us. We stated policies back in 1993 government policy makers should commit to. Maybe now is the time to revive the memory of those actions, to realize actions and decisions that could indeed move toward the kind of changes that are potentially viable today.
Many mistakes were made, particularly in underestimating how a material and secular society tends to close itself from the higher realms where spirituality resides, and its silences tend to be drowned out by the noise of a competitive democracy. In a fringe organization like AAAC we could take advantage of being an outsider, saying things no one else was saying, pointing to cultural relationships that were being ignored, but that did not move our actions to be adopted. We could only raise for viewers these ideas expressing our concerns. What audiences want and what the situation calls for is quite different today.
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As a senior community arts organization we thank you and are grateful for your support. We encourage you not to forget such elder organizations. Even in the midst of all that we are going through, we are going through this together, so please keep us in mind. Your support and your donations are very much welcomed and needed. Your skills and your time may be of great value to us. Please do not hesitate to contact us. In this regard we invite you to donate to Asian American Arts Centre (see artspiral.org for donation link) or to one of the three elder arts organizations of your choosing below.
These are dear friends that you may already know. Otherwise we invite you to get to know them.
Towards intergenerational and intercultural elan:
214 East 2nd Street, New York, NY 10009 (mail check to this address)
Suite 300 1730 W. Olympic Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90015
http://www.greatleap.org/ (see link at end of website to donate)
Brandywine Workshop and Archives
730 South Broad Street Philadelphia, PA, 19146
https://brandywineworkshopandarchives.org/ (see website to donate)
With Kind Regards,