BY Chandrea Miller
USC Pacific Asia Museum (USC PAM) is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a future-facing and past-probing exhibit like no other.
“With our 50th year anniversary, we really wanted to do something different,” said interim director of USC Galleries and Museums Bethany Montagano. “Instead of coming out and saying, ‘we know what Asian art is and we know what the future of Asian art is,’ we invited artists to tell us.”
The exhibition titled Intervention: Fresh Perspectives after 50 Years includes seven Asian American artists and scholars who created new artworks that provide new ways to view and engage with the museum’s history and collection of Asian and Pacific Island art.
“It’s a gift really to expand our perspectives and reconsider our practices,” Montagano said. “What we create together becomes something that reshapes the way that Asian museums interact with the communities they’re supposed to represent and serve.”
The USC Provost stopped by the event to show his support.
“This is a celebration of what is good about museums, what’s good about USC and what’s good about communities,” said USC Provost Charles F. Zukoski. “It’s coming together to understand and explore new ideas.”
The exhibition’s creators said the display aims to generate transformative dialog about developing new institutional methodologies to better engage with the past to discover meaning in the present.
“I was really thinking about what the collection and display of Asian art means to Asian diasporic communities,” said Rebecca Hall, Curator USC Pacific Asia Museum. “The fact that L.A. has such a diverse and sizable Asian population and not enough thought has been given to what Asian art museums mean to those communities.”
The participating Asian diasporic artists are Antonius Bui, Audrey Chan, Jennifer Ling Datchuk, Amir Fallah, Akiko Jackson, Alan Nakagawa, and kate-hers RHEE.
Antonius-Tín Bui has a contagious thirst for life that informs their poly-disciplinary creations. Using both installation and hand-cut paper creations to navigate a space often reserved for predominantly white, heterosexual, cisgender people, Bui employs beauty as a refuge for fellow marginalized communities. Bui will be creating a welcoming installation for visitors to the exhibition, inviting all visitors to feel at home in PAM’s gallery space. In three life-sized cut paper pieces, they excavated the fragments of the USC PAM collection to piece together missing stories of the LGBTQ communities from displays of Asian art.
Audrey Chan’s research-based projects use drawing, painting, video, and public art to challenge dominant historical narratives through allegories of power, place, and identity. Chan will be mining PAM’s permanent galleries and collection to explore personal connections to Asian art. Utilizing her unique point of view and playful illustrative style, Chan is creating a newspaper for PAM’s visitors. Available in the galleries during the full run of Intervention, the newspaper borrows from the Chinese American community newspapers Chan remembers from her youth.
Jennifer Ling Datchuk
Jennifer Ling Datchuk’s work for Intervention explores the representation of women in collections of Asian art. Building from the inspiration of one of PAM’s Meiji period Japanese prints, Datchuk questions the standard depiction of (Japanese) women as fetishized and sexualized figures or people whose talents are reserved for the consumption of men. What does art look like that is created for women about women?
Amir H. Fallah
Amir H. Fallah’s layered paintings question cultural systems and the symbols we use to connect to our lives and to each other. He encourages viewers to contemplate the psychological space of borders, identities, and histories. Fallah’s large painting for Intervention draws from the USC PAM collection to trace the interconnected histories that are revealed in objects. Through his juxtaposition of historic and contemporary images, Fallah challenges deeply held assumptions about geography and culture by creating new connections.
Akiko Jackson uses affordable and discarded material specifically chosen to reference cultural memory, time, place, and body. Jackson utilizes materials and process to embrace cultural identity and the preservation of tradition. Jackson’s longstanding interest in materials, process, and connectability surface in her work for Intervention. She is creating a series of felted works that examine the USC Pacific Asia Museum’s collection by asking how can we truly understand amassed collections of Asian and Pacific art without knowing the language and cultural context? Language provides an inherent understanding of stories and objects, so once the objects are removed from their contexts and contained in new spaces, what system of interpretation can we use?
Working from a semi-autobiographical perspective, Alan Nakagawa explores history and archives to create poignant work tying the present to the past. Nakagawa uses the “orphan objects” collection at USC PAM. Nakagawa’s compassion for these objects has led him to construct tamashiP, a medium-scaled model of a space vessel that will carry the souls of orphaned objects in the USC Pacific Asia Museum collection into outer space and to a parallel universe where objects with unknown histories can live in peace. This work looks to Japanese funeral traditions, cinema, and science fiction entertainment for inspiration.
kate-hers RHEE’s work engages with post-colonial discourses surrounding collecting practices, artifact exhibition, and Othering encounters. For Intervention, kate-hers will create a site-specific installation titled The Postcolonial Afterlives of Han, a collection of objects dealing with the issues of death and mourning. RHEE will arrange self-made items to call attention to the inherent sense of loss in contemplating the past. Taking into consideration the post-colonial condition in the Korean historical context, as well as the current global coronavirus pandemic, the artist combines high and low materials that evoke burial, impermanence, nobility, caste, and the afterlife.
Robin Romans, Associate Vice Provost for Arts and Academic Affairs, said that he found the exhibit to be a lesson in Asian art and personal self-reflection.
“PAM in particular for me is very important,” Romans said. “When we go to a museum like this, you think you are going to learn something about East Asia, Polynesia, the Pacific but really what you end of learning more about is yourself.”
Kay Allen who has worked as the Associate Director at USC Fisher Museum of Art for more than three decades said this exhibit is a call to action concerning the recent incidents of hate against Asians.
“I challenge ourselves and ask ourselves to develop goals and objectives that really target the human status, about what is happening now and what’s needed out there socially to combat hate, to combat bigotry,” Allen said. “There’s no better way to do that or approach it and discuss these types of topics but through the arts.”
Established in 1971, the USC Pacific Asia Museum (PAM) is one of few U.S. institutions dedicated to the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands serving the city of Los Angeles and the Greater Southern California region. A leader in its academic work and committed to scholarship, USC PAM has produced more than 50 exhibition catalogs.
“As we celebrate USC PAM’s 50th anniversary, we look to the future by asking questions and reflecting on our past as it is embodied in the museum’s collection,” Montagano said. “Intervention offers an opportunity for institutional critique while acknowledging all that the museum has achieved over its 50-year history. We look forward to continuing to present boundary-breaking exhibitions for the next 50 years.”
Learn more at pacificasiamuseum.usc.edu.