“War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian-American Art,” currently at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, is a jewel of an exhibition that has been organized and curated by Laura Kina and Wei Ming Dariotis.
As their provocative title suggests, the curators — both scholars in the field of mixed-race studies — see their role not only to present a group of stimulating high-quality works (which they have done anyway,) but also to encourage a new understanding of what “mixed race” means. The last thing they intend is a celebration of multiculturalism, and instead, they stress that there is nothing new or exceptional about mixed-race heritage. These are issues that are more than political for them, and for the artists they have included in the show, because they are part of the fabric of their own experience.
Still, there is nothing hectoring or dogmatic about this show, and every piece is allowed to speak in its makers’ own very particular terms.
Laurel Nakadate describes herself as Japanese, Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Cherokee. Her remarkable “Greater New York” (2005) is a compilation (she calls it a mashup) of video fragments. These include her acting out the male fantasy that her racial makeup means that she is more than usually sexually available and her personal view of the events of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. As you might imagine, it has stirred up a good deal of heated debate since it was made, but she feels an obligation to address controversial material in her work. “How can we artists pretend the world doesn’t exist?” she asks in response to criticism.
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Lori Kay’s father is Filipino, and her mother is European American. Their marriage would have broken anti-miscegenation laws in her mother’s home state of Virginia, so they were married in Washington, D.C. One of Kay’s earliest memories is of a woman pointing at her in her stroller and hissing, “You’re a sin!” Her “Heir to Rice” (1999) is a small sculpture that is at once understated and splendidly eloquent. It comprises a conical straw hat that holds its shape and seems able to float above the ground, even though it is coated in bronze. Its subject is courage.
The common ground shared by all the artists in the show is in questioning assumptions, prejudice and stereotypes. In this they share the tendency of all significant artists to encourage more intelligent perception in the people who experience their work — which is why you should see this exhibit.
Robert Ayers: email@example.com