Tuesday, November 24, 2020
 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 fa├žade, 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 


Simone Leigh

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.  


Albert Chong

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


Dolly Unithan

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. 


Hisako Hibi

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.


Dorothy Imaguire  

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: 



Kenkeleba House

214 East 2nd Street, New York, NY 10009    (mail check to this address)


Corrine Jennings


Great Leap

Suite 300 1730 W. Olympic Blvd      Los Angeles, CA 90015 

http://www.greatleap.org/   (see link at end of website to donate)

Nobuko Miyamoto


Brandywine Workshop and Archives

730 South Broad Street  Philadelphia, PA, 19146

 https://brandywineworkshopandarchives.org/  (see website to donate)

Allan Edmunds



With Kind Regards, 

Bob Lee


Artspiral.org                            Artasiamerica.org                


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