With several exhibitions now open and a symposium taking place October 28-29, Stanford’s interdisciplinary Asian American Art Initiative (AAAI) aims to establish the university as a major center for the study of Asian American art. .
Visitors to the Cantor Center for the Arts can view the initiative’s first three exhibits: “The Faces of Ruth Asawa,” which opened in July and will be on display indefinitely; “At Home/On Stage: Asian American Representation in Photography and Film,” which runs through Jan. 15; and “East of the Pacific: Making Histories of Asian American Art,” on view through February 12.
AAAI is co-directed by Marci Kwon, assistant professor of art history at Stanford, and Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander, assistant curator of American art at Cantor. When Alexander joined the museum staff in 2018, the opportunity to work with Kwon on the initiative was part of what attracted her to the role.
“That’s what I wanted to come here to do at Stanford: start the AAAI with Marci. We saw ourselves, being located in the Bay Area, as having the perfect place to do this work,” he said. she said, noting that Stanford’s own entanglement in Asian American history dates back to the institution’s earliest days, when Chinese laborers helped build the university (and the railroads that founder Leland Stanford profited from) .
The contributions of Asian American artists, she said, have been “significantly underrepresented and underrecognized in the larger narratives of American art,” and the initiative is working to change that. through research, preservation, exhibition and community engagement.
With Kwon leading the academic side of things, Alexander worked hard to build the museum’s collection and exhibits, including curating “The Faces of Ruth Asawa” and “East of the Pacific.”
Located in the Meier family gallery, “The Faces of Ruth Asawa” consists of 233 clay masks that previously hung in the San Francisco home of famed Japanese-American artist, educator, and activist Asawa. The sculptor used friends, family and other artists as models for his masks.
“Looking at these faces, we are offered an intimate glimpse into Asawa’s democratic vision of the world, where anyone could become a work of art,” the exhibit materials state.
“East of the Pacific,” on display in the Freidenrich Family Gallery, offers a historical overview of the museum’s growing collection of Asian American art. Covering the years 1880 to 2021 and featuring 96 objects, the largest of AAAI’s three current exhibitions examines how American art – particularly in the Western region – has been and continues to be shaped by artists from the Diaspora. Asia and through contact between cultures. Treasures abound in this vast exhibition, including the extremely detailed watercolors of Wing Kwong Tse; vivid depictions of San Francisco’s Chinatown; and works created during and reflecting the experiences of Japanese Americans imprisoned in World War II internment camps, such as the striking linocuts of Henry Yuzuru Sugimoto. Alexander’s introductory text notes that while this exhibition focuses primarily on artists of East Asian descent, she hopes future projects will feature a greater diversity of artists, including those of southern and southern descent. -East Asian and Pacific Islanders.
“At Home/On Stage”, hosted at the Ruth Levison Halperin Gallery, examines various representations of Asian Americans in photography, film and video – in the private and public realms – and was curated by Maggie Dethloff, Cantor’s assistant curator of photography and new media. The seeds for the exhibition were planted when, a few years ago, Alexander had the opportunity to acquire photographs by Michael Jang and invited Dethloff to partner with her to add them to the collection.
“It was the first of many collaborative acquisitions we worked on together to support the Asian American Art Initiative. initiative, the representation of Asian American artists in the museum’s collection increased fivefold. When Alexander was planning the launch of “East of the Pacific”, she invited Dethloff to curate an exhibition specifically highlighting the photo and video works the initiative had accumulated, as well as examining items already in the collection at through a new lens.
“At Home/On Stage”, like “East of the Pacific”, includes a wide range of works, including some on loan from Stanford Libraries’ Special Collections Department. Stephanie Syjuco’s 2021 piece “Afterimages (Interference of Vision)” polishes a stock photo of the 1904 World’s Fair, where indigenous Filipinos were displayed as anthropological specimens in a recreation of an “indigenous village”. .
By obscuring the subjects’ faces, Syjuco “manipulates the photo and makes viewers wonder what right they have to look at an image like this,” Dethloff said.
Two works by Miljohn Ruperto — the film “Appearance of Isabel Rosario Cooper 2006-2010” and the screenplay “Dimples 2010” — re-examine and shed new light on the late Filipino American actress Isabel Rosario Cooper, who, despite having attempted to make it in mainstream Hollywood, was relegated to stereotypical roles and supporting roles and is best known for being the former mistress of US General Douglas MacArthur, Dethloff said. Ruperto’s film highlights Cooper’s presence on camera while blurring those around her, while “Dimples” is a fictionalized storyline based on her own life – the leading role she never got. “To create something for someone that they didn’t have in life, that’s never going to happen because that artist isn’t with us anymore; I think that’s a really compelling piece in the show,” Dethloff said.
On the “At Home” side of the exhibition, Jang’s photos are remarkable. Taken in Pacifica in the 1970s, they offer a loving and sometimes humorous look at the artist’s extended family (including a few dapper pets). While many of the works in the exhibition have a serious tone and consider problematic stories, appropriations and stereotypes, Dethloff said it was important the exhibition also included a happier “emotional register”, with the photos quirky and playful Jang illustrating the lighter side. of life.
And while the contrasting settings of “At Home” and “On Stage” are juxtaposed, Dethloff said the two parts have more in common than you might expect.
“At the end of the day, when you think about identity, in many ways it’s performative, whether you’re at home or in public. We construct our own identities in a certain way. Representation has an effect about how you see yourself.” she says. Whether captured by a formal portrait or a casual snapshot, “identity and representation in the public and private spheres are so interconnected”.
Dethloff said curating this exhibit reiterated to him the interdisciplinary nature of the AAAI, with Kwon and Alexander weighing in on how Asian American Studies conversations and issues have evolved over the past few decades.
“There’s been a lot of learning about how different fields of study approach the same questions,” Dethloff said. “As a curator, that was really a very valuable lesson that makes me really excited about the work – being able to learn from a whole different group of people.”
On October 28-29, Stanford will host “IMU UR2: Art, Aesthetics, and Asian America,” a free public lecture by artists, scholars, and curators, named after a phrase by artist Martin Wong. . “IMU UR2” celebrates not only the launch of the AAAI but also public access to the Martin Wong Catalog Raisonné (a collaboration between the AAAI, Stanford Libraries and the Martin Wong Foundation).
“Being connected to a university is not just museum work; we do university research to try to bring people together,” Alexander said.
Speakers at the two-day event will each offer a single-image presentation, followed by response and discussion, with panel themes including “Global Intimacies”, “Race & Aesthetics”, “Art & Activisms”, “History & Memory”, “Gender and Sexuality” and “Institutional Interventions”. Author Cathy Park Hong and artist Jen Liu will deliver the main conversation at Bing Concert Hall, hosted by AAAI’s Kwon. The event will also be streamed live via Zoom.
Plans for the future of the initiative include expanding publications related to works in the collection and exploring the possibility of establishing a permanent gallery space. Alexander’s hope, she says, is that the AAAI will become as central to the Cantor’s identity as his Auguste Rodin collection.
“It’s an open-ended project,” Alexander said. “What you’re seeing this fall is really just the beginning.”
The Cantor Arts Center is located at 328 Lomita Drive, Stanford. Free entry; reservations are required and are available at the door. More information about the Asian American Art Initiative is available at museum.stanford.edu/AAAI. Registration for “IMU UR2” is available at museum.stanford.edu/aaai-events.