[personal profile] kaihangcheang posting in [community profile] asianamlitfans

There must be something hopeful for Asian American critics in looking back to the long Sixties in the age of Trump. Just as scholars have produced a wide range of new work on the period, so too, the Asian American art world has been equally drawn to the Sixties, the decade of resistance, due to its role in the political formation of our ethnically heterogeneous community. One example of this reengagement with that period is Roots: Asian American Movement in Los Angeles, 1968-80s at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles. The curator, Steve Wong, has organized materials from a diverse visual archive of the period into two sections by medium. On the right side of the exhibit introduction is a video viewing room featuring six of the earliest Asian American films made by Visual Communications, each representing a different demographic and historical moment in regional Asian American history. The films’ style and content vary—ranging from a black a white film re-telling the Manzanar internment camp experience, to a personal profile of a homeless Chinese American man who couldn't find a room to rent and resorted to living in his car, parking from one in free spot to another. Directly across from the viewing room is the main installation of the exhibit that showcases paper ephemerals that chronicle the emergence of the Asian American Civil Rights Movement. The story of the Movement’s origins takes us all the way back to community-run newspapers written in different languages, explaining the reason why each Asian ethnic group would decide to join forces with the larger Civil Rights Movement in the LA area. I was particularly struck by a letter written by a college student to his mother, explaining how activism has become his passion; his experience protesting on the street helped him to see that his disengagement from his classes stemmed from his school’s curriculum's disregard for Asian American experience.


The next installment is specifically dedicated to women’s and the queer community’s involvement in the later days of the Asian American Civil Rights Movement. The pamphlets and newsletters are particularly significant, including the Asian/Pacific Lesbian & Gays Newsletter from the 1980s, and Asian Women (a magazine of women poetry and columns came out from Berkeley in the 70s).


The last section illustrates the transnational turn of the Movement, represented by colorful posters produced during the protest to save I-Hotel in SF (the affordable home of many early immigrants in the expensive city), accompanied by cover pages of the magazine Gidra. All artifacts in this section are related by their imagination of the Movement as a political campaign waged for and with the Third World.

Communism influence on the Movement is a central theme that runs through the exhibit’s aesthetics. The head shot of Mao, "the little red book," and the Maoist slogan “serve the people” linger as particularly significant parts of the display.


The many different genres of art in the exhibit, as demonstrated by the t-shirts hanging on a string, and a smorgasbord of badges featuring the peace sign, the fist sign, the tiger sign and the face of a manong, coupled with X, all point to the fact that the exhibit’s approach to answering the complex question of the roots of the Asian American Movement is that it is a story that is far from singular.


Reflecting on the exhibit from the lens of Asian American cultural studies, its red inflection and material heterogeneity represent what the Asian American scholar Colleen Lye has called “Mao Zedong thought” in the Asian American Sixties. "A hundred flower blossoming" is an ideological trademark in Maoism, a strategic mediation of contradictions. As such, to understand the Maoist/Marxist/ Materialist aesthetic in Roots, I suggest that we have to look at the exhibit both holistically and attentively. The space spent on each ethnic group's own history and politics can be thought of what Mao would call the particularity of motion, while the overall theme of anti-war/anti-imperialism is the thread that unites the groups, functioning like the universal force that binds individual particularities in the Movement.

Date: 2017-05-04 05:37 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] stephenhongsohn
thanks for the review! =)

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