Opening Friday is USC Pacific Asia Museum’s new exhibition “We Are Here: Contemporary Art and Asian Voices in Los Angeles.”
The exhibit is about the diverse group of people who make up Los Angeles’ Asian population, according to exhibit curator Dr. Rebecca Hall. The first part runs until June 14 and features paintings, photography, installations, performances and video.work by Reanne Estrada, Phung Huynh, Ahree Lee, Ann Le, Kaoru Mansour, Mei Xian Qiu, and Sichong Xie — all women artists.
Speaking over the phone, Hall, assistant curator at the museum, noted that this exhibit brings in our contemporary population, allowing people “to come into the museum and really see themselves.”
To create this exhibit, Hall turned to the internet, searching for work on gallery websites and exhibitions that she found the most compelling.
Filipina Reanne Estrada is the creative director for Public Matters, a creative studio for civic engagement, and has performed in the group Mail Order Brides. She tends to address identity power structures and for the museum she’s expanding upon a piece that looks at cyber security and our need to protect our privacy.
A refugee from the Vietnam War, Phung Huynh examines the shifting notions of cultural identity in her paintings — portraits on pink donut boxes, a reference to Vietnamese coming here and buying donut shops. Her pieces also include cross-stitched works meant to mimic souvenir key chain license plates. Those license plates come in “very standard European American names,” but Phung Huynh is making “inclusive statements” by using Vietnamese names.
Ahree Lee uses video and mixed media works to investigate what makes up individual or collective identity in an increasingly culturally alienated and fractured world. She draws on the tradition of bojagi (a hand-sewn piece of cloth like a crazy quilt) that women create for their daughters. These works also touch on women and computers and the relationship between programming textiles and programming computers. Computer programming was once “invisible labor” associated with women, “but now we associate computers and programming with men,” said Lee.
Born to a refugee family from Vietnam living in San Diego, Ann Le realized that she needed to investigate who she was as a refugee in order to understand what it meant to be a Vietnamese American. As her father was a photographer, she uses family photos and stories to create layered images.
Kaoru Mansour playfully mixes nature in her images to build up what she calls “surfaces so compelling, so rich” that pulls from her experiences with plants, foods and people and “puts them together in whimsical ways.”
In some ways, Hall finds that her being a singer is evident in her paintings and sculptures that show lyricism and playfulness similar to her music.
Mei Xian Qiu has a very complex identity as an ethnic Chinese woman who was born in Indonesia. According to Hall, some of her photographs are particularly well known. She is from Indonesia, but she is considered Chinese, only in China she might not be Chinese enough. She examines notions of culture, commonplace transience and the growing global monoculture.
Sichong Xie, the youngest artist in the group, grew up in China and came to the US for college as an exchange student. “She figured out who she is in the US, as a Chinese woman in the states, as an artist and as a person,” Hall said. “Her grandfather had drawn a political cartoon and was placed in a labor camp for several years. Naturally, in communist Chinese, this had a great impact on her family,” said Hall.
After he died, Xie’s grandmother described the cartoon, which itself is long gone. “Xie has tried to recreate the drawing based on what her grandmother told her about it, only to be told, ‘No, it’s nothing like that,’” Hall said. “Was her grandmother misremembering or protecting her granddaughter?”
There’s a short documentary video on each artist which should be online once the exhibition opens. Hall said that as curator she wants to complicate how people look at Asia, because “Being Asian is very complex.”
“We Are Here: Contemporary Art and Asian Voices in Los Angeles” continues Wednesdays through Sundays until June 14 at the USC Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena. Admission is $7 to $10. Admission is free from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays. For more information, call (626) 787-2680 or visit PacificAsiaMuseum.usc.edu. A second part of the exhibition, a multichannel video installation by Tran, T. Kim-Trang called “Movements: Battles and Solidarity,” will be on view July 1–Aug 2.