Many artists focus on using sci-fi ideas and creating worlds informed by their culture and experiences.
It was exciting (and long overdue) when Kelly Marie Tran, a Vietnamese-American actress, became the first woman of color to play a lead role in the iconic “Star Wars” franchise in the 2017 film “The Last Jedi.”
George Takei is likely the most high-profile Asian American to appear onscreen in a starring sci-fi role. Takei starred as Hikaru Sulu on the “Star Trek” TV series, in addition to six feature films in the franchise. Although Asian Pacific Americans remain underrepresented onscreen, they play a significant role behind the scenes — most notably as writers, designers and artists.
Last October, Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience opened an exhibit titled “Worlds Beyond Here: The Expanding Universe of APA Science Fiction.” It runs through September 15 and focuses on the important roles Asian Pacific Americans have played in shaping sci-fi as we know it. It includes a replica of the “Star Trek” bridge, and some of Takei’s memorabilia, but many of the unsung heroes featured in the exhibition hail from the Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest.
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“As a mixed-race Asian American, I am used to and feel comfortable existing as ‘other.’ The universes to be found in science fiction are both exciting, and also feel like home,” says Seattle artist Stasia Burrington, whose work is featured in the exhibit. “It feels natural to explore and expand definitions of our reality, and possibilities of what’s to come. I feel like we (contemporary artists) are in an exciting place.”
Burrington created an alien landscape mural that touches on the theme of how Asians relate to sci-fi. Some immigrants feel a connection to the alien stories in classic sci-fi, leaving home and traveling to a new planet where you don’t quite belong. Others reject the idea that they are “aliens” and don’t want to be portrayed that way. This diversity of viewpoints is an important part of the exhibition experience.
Many artists focused on using sci-fi ideas and creating art through an Asian Pacific American lens. “I was excited about the challenge of taking sci-fi/fantasy ideas and manifest it in a concrete, artistic form through an Asian American lens. I used the word coined by author Ken Liu, ‘Silkpunk,’ to guide and inform elements of my hanging sculpture,” says June Sekiguchi, another local artist whose work is showcased in the exhibit.
As evidenced by the number of Asian Americans who work behind the scenes to make sci-fi the massive success it is today, the community has a far greater impact on the genre than is visible on the surface. Exhibits like “Worlds Beyond” offer context and a glimpse into the worlds they help create.
This kind of context is just what Wing Luke Museum Exhibit Developer Mikala Woodward had in mind as she led the development of “Worlds Beyond.” “We hope people will leave the exhibit with an appreciation of the unique perspectives APA creators bring to this genre,” she says, “and an excitement about creating their own imaginative worlds and stories.”
The Wing Luke Museum’s mission is to connect everyone to the rich history, dynamic cultures and art of the Asian Pacific Americans through vivid storytelling and inspiring experiences.