Saturday, June 20, 2009

Not Your Average Baker's Dozen: Thirteen American/Asian Artists Visualize Their Stories

Last year the five dedicated curators of the ArtXchange Gallery sent a call out for artists whose work exemplified the theme of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Out of hundreds of responses thirteen artists were chosen.The words American/Asian seem to jump at you, off the windowpane, as a newfangled combination. Yet in the Arts as created in the Pacific Northwest it is not.

At a recent gathering of Asian American writers, poets and artists at Elliott Bay Books, Art Historian Kazuko Nakane stated: "Unlike Asian American artists in different regions, who introduced Asian aesthetics to the United States, Asian American artists here developed their own American art, or should I say, the aesthetic of the Northwest, and some of them bridged the art of East and West. The Asian American artists of the Northwest were not marginalized but equally prominent as other Northwest artists of their time from the turn of the century, which is unique to this region."

Taking these words in account, it seems the groundwork was done for the artists showing at the ArtXchange Gallery. Yet, growing up in the aftermath of World War II, younger generations have a different situation to grapple with than their elders, and newcomers land in a culture already affected by sensibilities and esthetics of "new" Americans.

Rather than being mere exponents of the melting pot of yore, the artists of "New Cultures" stand for a freshly steeped infusion of the East and West. Their work a reminder of ancient and modern history, forged by great intent and new media.

At first glance Jonathan Wakuda Fischer's Great Wave looks familiar, traditional even, but his layered paintings are far from that. Combining old and new methods, he honors past and present. Deborah Kapoor changes the visible in her search for a visual language that connects cultures.
MalPina Chan delves from a literal paper trail to deliver a visual narrative in familiar collages. Barry Wong's reverent photography is an ode to his heritage. Dean Wong is the photographic chronicler of the International District. Frederic Wong, inspired by the Daoist notion of "non-action" provides the media, and then lets nature take its course. Tenzin Mingyur Paldron hopes that her 2008 documentary "Q&A: Ramifications of Identity" opens up discussions about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer Asian Pacific Islanders.

Where language and image is already interwoven from the first brush stroke, Hiroshima-born Chiyo Sanada adds experimental gestures to traditional Japanese & Chinese calligraphic imagery. Conceptual artist June Sekiguchi explores otherness and connectedness, familiarity and the unknown, and the beauty of it all. Arun Sharma exposes his Chinese Australian wife to hundreds of rotating floral images from Western works of art. The effect of his, "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let the hundred schools of thought contend …" (from Mao's 100 Flowers Campaign), is a mesmerizing lightshow. On another plane his fractured teacups allow room for thought.

The meditative quality in William Song's paintings expresses what making art means to him. In Joseph Songco's photos of Pike Place Market, Asian American farmers look almost timeless; generations in pursuit of the American Dream. Judy Shintani's Remembrance Shrine is the gift that keeps on giving. By inviting visitors to add their own memories or dedications to the shrine, it becomes more than personal; remembering together creates community. Her work is (as she herself states) "polite, very Japanese". Still, underneath black pebbles in her installation "The Quiet American Hero" one suspects a silent scream.

Come to the closing reception June 27th and you can participate from 1-3 p.m. in a free hands-on workshop Shintani presents in conjunction with Legacies of War, about "Remembrance Art". The resulting object d'art will become part of Legacies of War's traveling exhibit.

"American/Asian: A Tale of New Cultures" is on view through June 27.
At the ArtXchange Gallery, 512 First Ave S, Seattle.
Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
For more information call (206) 839-0377 or visit and

Due to error this article did not appear in the International Examiner print issue of 6/17, it is archived on the website

IE Contributor Judith van Praag is a bilingual Dutch writer, author and artist. She lives in Seattle with her husband Gary and their pooch Mocha

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