“i hope the honesty of my searching and unknowing feels like a palpable thing a viewer could hold. because my experience, this sensation, is not unique. it is, sadly, so many of ours to share. and i hope we can sit here with it, here, in the quiet of this room, with this work’s embrace of its precarity and incompleteness—its recognition of its own insufficiency as an archival object—and know that maybe we, in our flawed unbelonging and unknowing diasporic selves, are also enough.” -Satpreet Kahlon
Lore Re-Imagined, which runs until April 14th 2019 at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, combines past stories with the present. Guest curated by Chieko Phillips, three artists combined their personal stories and modern identities with traditional art forms specific to their own ethnic heritages, in order to make them relevant today. Folklore was the primary form of ancient communication for indigenous and minoritized populations and these artists sought to bring those stories to life.
Once you step into the small gallery, you are immediately captivated by Alex Anderson’s Anxious Watermelon. It is accompanied by a vase and watercolor with similar coloring and style, though Anxious Watermelon is the main focus of the trio. Drawing on his Black and Japanese bi-racial identity and his education in Chinese Ink Painting, Anderson creates a layered and powerful piece of art. Anxious Watermelon is a daruma doll, a paper-mache head with the eyes left unfinished, and once the owner decides on a goal or dream for the year, they draw in one eye. The remaining unfinished eye is meant to motivate their owners and help them achieve and realize their goal. Once the owner achieves their dream, they paint in the other eye. Anderson’s daruma doll is painted to resemble a watermelon, with features such as furrowed black eyebrows, downturned thick red lips, a sweat bead on the top of its head, and one eye painted in.
Anderson juxtaposes racism and art in a subtle and profound way. His daruma at first seems cute and cartoonish. If you keep looking, though, you’ll see he combines a racist American stereotype (the watermelon as associated with black people), with a common Japanese art form (daruma) to address the complexity of race in America, racist realities, and perhaps Anderson’s own realities as a biracial American man in 2018. The watermelon, “represent[s] a historical stereotype in the identity politics of blackness.”
Unnamed Lake by Megumi Shauna Arai. Photo courtesy of Wing Luke Museum.
Megumi Shauna Arai’s Unnamed Lake, a large patchwork quilt sewed in the Japanese sashiko style is a medley of bright colors and a beautiful contrast of white stitching. The surface of the quilt is made with several different fabrics and circles, diamonds, and shapes, embroidered into the quilt with seemingly no symmetry or pattern. According to her artist statement, sashiko is: “a hand stitched folk embroidery tradition that originated in 18th century Japan as a rural peasant mending practice. It was used to hold layers of scrap fabric together for warmth and strength.” Arai brought a group of 42 strangers together to make this Sashiko quilt, using textiles from Japan, the United States, and France.
Arai recorded the many conversations between the quilters which were based in culture, race, ethnicity, traditions, and living their daily lives. The recordings were played behind the piece, making it necessary for visitors to engage with the art and quite literally to place their ears into the quilt to hear the conversations. While making this piece, Aria wondered what it meant to be a part of community and how to connect with ourselves and others. Through the sewing of the quilt, she seems to have come closer to answering these questions.
in/ /between by Satpreet Kahlon. Photo courtesy of Wing Luke Museum.
The last room held in/ /between by Satpreet Kahlon. This installation was meant to look like a neighborhood in India, where the artist’s family is from. It was a large and sprawling structure made from wood planks and scraps draped in gauze paper, held together with strings, and attached to the floor and walls with tape. In the spaces between the houses, personal items like bangles and nail polish were placed. English poems were pasted to the houses, and the artist used fans to blow the gauze about, creating movement in the piece. In the background, two tape recorders played the sounds of a village road in Gurdaspur, where her grandparents settled after escaping from Pakistan following the Partition in 1947. The composition was chaotic and unforgettable. In her artist statement, Kahlon described her piece: “this work is about dichotomies and separation, about what it means to be in many but of no place, about history and legacy-but most of all, this work is about yearning. about pasts that have lost themselves to time, to swift colonial escape, to the sudden and complete silence that only comes from sudden generational death.”
This exhibit gets under your skin. At first glance, the significance is not obvious for those who do not have personal contact with Asian culture, or are not aware of their cultural differences and practices. As an Asian American viewer, I felt a deeper pull towards these pieces. I felt seen in the art world, which generally has little minority representation. These artists found ways to connect their lives with lore of the past, speak about their families, explore their identities and define themselves through their art. It was truly incredible to be in that space. I felt safe. As a woman of color, it is rare to find these connections and feel remembered and honored.
For others viewing this with no personal connections or immediate reactions, Lore Re-Imagined is a fantastic opportunity to step outside of their own identities. Feel the emotion behind these pieces. Empathize with people who have greater struggles to overcome. Allow diverse stories to incorporate with your own. Change your singular mindset. Enjoy the beautiful art.
Art's purpose is to make you think, to bring new stories and ideas into your perspective. Once we are able to expand our perspectives, we can understand people who have vastly different experiences. Lore Re-Imagined allows these diverse stories to come into modern society.