Asian Museum in Seattle Fosters Dialogue About Race
An art exhibit at the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle, Washington, inspired a June 4 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called "Wing Luke exhibit fosters dialogue about racial differences." Author Regina Hackett writes: "'Beyond Talk: Redrawing Race' at the Wing Luke Museum features 12 different approaches to race. In spite of the title, it's successful because of the talk it generates. This exhibit manages a feat rare in the museum world: It encourages dialogue without patronizing the audience." Click below to read the full article.
Wing Luke exhibit fosters dialogue about racial differences
By REGINA HACKETT
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER ART CRITIC
Questions of race crop up in unexpected places. Take the P-I's profile Tuesday of a young man whose face was burned beyond recognition. Now married and the father of two, he bravely accepts the pain he went though and the mask of scar tissue he lives with, but if he could change some things, he told reporter Carol Smith, one of them would be his eyes.
Thanks to the scarring, people think he's Asian, he said.
"People ask me where I'm from and I say Bainbridge Island," he explained. "And they say, 'No, where are you from really?' "
Asian Americans get that question all the time and learn to cope with a racist assumption: If they're Asian, they're not American.
"Beyond Talk: Redrawing Race" at the Wing Luke Museum features 12 different approaches to race. In spite of the title, it's successful because of the talk it generates. This exhibit manages a feat rare in the museum world: It encourages dialogue without patronizing the audience.
The spiral notebooks hanging near each artwork, full of comments, are evidence of audience engagement with the theme.
"I didn't know I was white till somebody told me," observed one young woman. Well, yes, and a person who isn't white isn't likely to make a similar observation.
"Beyond Talk" suggests why this is so, illuminating aspects of racial difference within a shared humanity. Nobody's the target of anybody else's rancor. The artists assume viewers are open to looking at a range of reflections.
The Wing Luke invited Northwest artists of all colors to participate in "Beyond Talk," a first for the museum. The 12 selected came in at the end of the process. Considering the thoughtful caution and complex ruminations of the various groups who selected the jury, who in turn chose its makers, the final product is remarkably free and forthright.
It isn't, however, original. Because the subject of race has attracted some of this country's strongest artists in the past 100 years, much of the art we see here is an echo. This is not to say it lacks value. Any art promoting racial dialogue is of value to the community in which it appears.
I like Malpina Chan's "Lin Heong's Trunk." Inside the transparent trunk with brass fittings are transparent family photos. It's solid without weight, like memories hard-wired in the heart.
Social Realism from the 1930s went underground and continued to evolve. It appears here in the graffiti surrealist-tinged canvases of Ronald Hall and in "Loss," a bleakly beautiful portrait of a man looking at the bombed out World Trade Center in New York by Lun-Yi Tsai.
Deborah F. Lawrence's didactical dinner trays are fiercely witty. Julie Green's paintings on dinner plates are illustrations of last meals requested by death row inmates. The paintings are wan, because the food already has been consumed.
Aside from the fact that black males are disproportionately represented on death row than anybody else, Green's project doesn't bear directly on the issue of race. And by being plate paintings, they can't avoid comparison to the more powerful plate paintings of Charles Krafft.
Because his aesthetic relation to racism is both corrosive and uncomfortably ambiguous, Krafft's plates would be dynamite in this exhibit. His work is good, but not necessarily good for you.
No such ambiguity informs the art of the artists who made the cut. On the subject of racism, they leave no doubt that they're against it.
Ambiguity is not necessarily a virtue, but some of these artists could refine their clarity to good effect. Damali Ayo is an interesting artist, but her racial greeting cards are a rehash of territory Adrian Piper covered years ago. Ditto for Wes Kim's "Vision Test." It has been done far, far better by David Hammons.