In mid-November, the nonprofit Asian American Federation released 10 travel posters designed to subvert an issue that can instantly enter the skin of anyone of Asian descent in the United States: “Where are you from?” you really?
At first glance, impressions – conceptualized by the advertising agency Droga5 – look like futuristic, cubist renderings of familiar cityscapes in cities like New York, Seattle, Houston, and San Diego. But closer inspection reveals distinct iconography honoring the lives of 10 Asian American pioneers who made their home here.
The Houston poster, for example, features footage taken from childhood memories of Kevin Kwan, the author of “Crazy Rich Asians”: a rickety Asian grocery store with flickering fluorescent lights and an alternative record store he was dating with friends.
One of six posters titled “I’m Really From New York City” pays tribute to Suki Terada Ports, the prominent Japanese-American activist who spearheaded the city’s first HIV / AIDS programs for American-born Americans. Asian origin.
City Through the Eyes of Ports features a scene in which her mother cooked dinner for 20 Japanese-American soldiers during WWII and one in which Ports was arrested for protesting private development on public land.
Kezia Gabriella, the Singapore-based illustrator who designed the Ports print, said creating art at the height of anti-Asian racism was both sobering and empowering.
“It wasn’t until recently that I spoke more about my identity as an Asian artist,” said Gabriella, of Dutch, Chinese and Indonesian descent. Working on the project, she continued, taught him that “my race should not be the cause of racial discrimination or stereotypes; it should just be a fact.
Over the past year, as incidents of bias and hate crimes against their communities increased, Asian American artists in New York City and beyond have produced ambitious multimedia projects that explore the fragility, burden and the joy of being Asian in America. In doing so, they also raised tens of thousands of dollars for local organizations and empowered art to turn mourning into a rallying cry.
In late spring, photographer Andrew Kung and product designer Kathleen Namgung released “Perpetual Foreigner,” a photo series that stylizes Asian Americans in clothes from the ’90s fashion campaigns and frames them in a bucolic setting. A particularly intimate photo shows Kung’s parents entwined on a yellow picnic blanket.
“The imagery we wanted to paint was one of celebration and belonging,” Kung said, “an ideal landscape of what it might look like if Asian Americans were accepted into this country.”
The calm happiness that emanates from the photos may seem shocking amid the racial violence that has ravaged the Asian diaspora, but Kung and Namgung had no interest in dwelling on the grief and loss.
“I don’t think trauma should be a part of anyone’s experience,” said Namgung, creative director of the project. “This is just an unnecessary result of the racism that we unfortunately have to face.”
After the mass shoot at three Atlanta-area spas in March, photographer Cindy Trinh and actress Christine Fang began working on a multimedia project to capture the fetishization and harassment that follows many Asian women and people. non-binary almost daily. “Invisible No More,” which was released during Asia-Pacific American Heritage Month in May, is a portrait series highlighting the stories of 16 women and women of Asian American descent.
“This project for both of us really started out of need,” said Fang. “Our hearts were on fire. Our souls needed something.
Trinh and Fang asked participants to share the difficult racial dynamics they have experienced at work and in relationships or casual encounters. Fang reworked each interview into a short monologue that she recruited different actors to read, then layered the audio recordings over the portraits of Trinh.
The project helped some participants reclaim parts of their culture that white people have exploited and humiliated. After a Vietnamese woman said she was laughed at for smelling pho, Trinh photographed her portrait with her head and face covered in pho noodles.
“Carrying out these art projects is so important because it helps us realize and remind ourselves that we are not alone in the struggle,” Trinh said. “Coming together is how we can continue to heal ourselves and fight oppression. “
Last winter, as violent attacks on Asian elders began to escalate, vividly painted portraits of Asians, Pacific Islanders and black people – flanked by vibrant flowers and messages like “I’m not your scapegoat “- appeared on the walls of New York’s busiest subway. and bus stops.
Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s “I Still Believe In Our City” public art series, created in partnership with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, has reminded millions of commuters of humanity, diversity and beauty of Asian Americans at a time when many saw them as mere carriers of a deadly virus.
“The city has become a sprawling campus where I can lay bare my grief and amplify our joy and truly envelop our community with love and belonging,” said Phingbodhipakkiya, of Thai and Indonesian descent.
Some elements of the project were taken directly from her own trauma: She said that many mantras that accompany the portraits, such as “I did not make you sick” and “We too are America”, were words she wished she could say. to a man who verbally assaulted her in the metro.
“It’s important to stop people in their tracks because we live in such a noisy world,” she said. “Art can say in an instant what written words would take a lot longer to assimilate.”