Events

Seven Asian Women Artists Discuss Racism and Tokenism in the Art World

Artist stephanie mei huang hopes to create a “space of solidarity” for Asian women — something she says has “seldom been given.”

Christine Tien Wang, “Curate This Painting” (2012), Flashe-paint on board, 20 x 20 inches, to be featured and discussed in the “hyper(in)visibility” panel (image courtesy the artist and Night Gallery)

While the art world likes to present itself as inclusive and progressive, it is plagued by institutional racism, tokenism, and a general lack of diversity. Next Tuesday, July 14, six women artists of Southeast and East Asian descent will come together to frankly discuss their experiences and what they hope to push forward with their work. The artists, most of whom are based in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, are Pearl C Hsiung, Maia Ruth Lee, Astria Suparak, Stephanie Syjuco, Hồng-Ân Trương, and Christine Tien Wang. The host and main organizer of the event, stephanie mei huang, is also a Los Angeles-based artist.

“The yellow woman’s body, historically rendered either invisible or as ‘object,’ is now catapulted into hypervisibility amidst xenophobic questions of contagion, virility, and a history of scapegoatism,” reads the description of the event, which is aptly titled “hyper(in)visibility.”

In putting together this panel, huang hopes to create a “space of solidarity” for Asian women — something she says has “seldom been given.” Some of the questions she plans to pose include “How have COVID-19 and BLM affected your understanding of your racial, ethnic, and national identity?” and “How do we want to be seen? Is it possible to be seen the way we want to be seen?”

These six artists have a wide collective range of work, exploring the environment, food politics, race representation, immigrant histories, and much more. But huang sees some common ground, particularly a “sense of imposed discomfort.” She surmises that this may be because “as racialized and gendered bodies, we somehow are always experiencing that discomfort.” As an example, she cites Wang’s I just want to be a white girl paintings

Hồng-Ân Trương, “We Are Beside Ourselves,” a reference to a historical photo of the women of Gidra (image courtesy the artist and Mike Murase)

The “hyper(in)visibility” panel was originally going to be held in late June in partnership with the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), but huang decided to withdraw after the museum appointed a white man as CEO and director. The appointment incited local controversy because “VAG has no Black representation on their board in addition to an overwhelmingly amount of white senior positions.” VAG’s response was “insufficient,” according to huang, and she “did not want to support an institution that was tone deaf to the urgent calls of the BLM uprising and BIPOC actions.”

She added, “I did not want myself or the panelists to yet again be forced into tokenized positions as women of color by an institution that reinforces the status quo of racism in the Americas or uses Asian people as a wedge between other people of color and whiteness.” As artists and art workers rally to inspire institutional change, the panel — now hosted by the Contemporary Calgary — has absorbed a whole new relevant layer of discussion.

When: Tuesday, July 14, 1:30 pm (PDT)
Where: Zoom

More info at Contemporary Calgary.

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