Posts tagged ‘visual art’

Sign O’ The Times: BART police sticker intervention

Hit 'em where it hurts, BART sticker intervention, July 2010

On hemmed-in ground, use subterfuge.

–Sun Tzu

Just a quick shoutout regarding a nice little intervention that’s followed in the wake the Johannes Mehserle verdict a couple weeks ago. Short, sweet, and to the point, these little gems have apparently been popping up on BART trains throughout the Bay Area. I haven’t found images of any of them in situ so if you happen to see one pasted up somewhere on your next BART ride be sure to whip out your cameraphone & document it for me. If you send me a pic I’ll post it for sure.

The Mehserle verdict was frustrating in so many ways, but even more aggravating was the mainstream media’s utterly predictable and fairly irresponsible response to it. The day of the verdict you could almost smell the anticipation on the breath of the cable news networks’ spokesmodels as they hopefully waited on the streets of Oakland for a riot to break out. Oakland residents managed to defy expectations as hundreds of people peacefully rallied for several hours after the verdict was announced, and it was only after most of those folks had gone home that a few goons trashed some storefronts and stole some running shoes. I’m not discounting the idiocy of the vandalism that happened that night but for the most part damage was contained to about 5 blocks in downtown Oakland.

Exercising constitutional rights, Oakland, July 8, 2010

It’s telling that, of the 79 people arrested that night, prosecutors only filed charges against nine of them. Even more significantly, of those arrested 75% were not from Oakland and twelve of them weren’t even from the state of California. This reflects a common pattern of police repression that’s been honed in recent anti-capitalist demonstrations worldwide, most recently at the G-20 summit in Toronto.

As Loius Proyect, aka The Unrepentant Marxist, notes in his blog, what happened in Oakland followed a well-worn scenario:

There’s a mass demonstration. A layer of people do a split from that march and then some engage in expressing their rage against the system by smashing windows and other acts. Given the world we live in, it is surprising that more of this doesn’t happen more often.
In response, the police hold back until the main march disperses. They wait for some damage to be done, and then they go on the offensive. They round-up and brutalize everyone left on the streets, including passers-by, peaceful protesters and those engaged in property damage. In Seattle, Quebec, Genoa, etc. this script has played out over and over again. The police wait until the mass organisations leave, then go after the rest. This strategy suggests that the police and the state are keenly aware of who they want—and don’t want—to provoke.

The events in Oakland suggest that, onced again, we were played both by the police and by the complicity of the mass media. If the powers-that-be have perfected the art of misrepresenting peaceful protests as riots and discouraging the average citizen from any form of dissent, then continuing to utilize creative interventionism as a revolutionary tactic is an absolute must. As 19th-century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz famously stated, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Street protest is a venerable form of dissent, but if properly done, small, sneaky activist artworks like the BART sticker above can also pack a mighty wallop.

For a more detailed analysis of the Mehserle verdict and aftermath, go to Davey D’s blog here.

UPDATE: Nov. 5, 2010. Johannes Mehserle’s sentence has just been announced–he got 2 years, which was the minimum about of jail time he could have received. The gun enhancement charge, which could have added up to 10 years to Mehserle’s sentence, was thrown out by Judge Robert Perry. With time served, Mehserle could be released as early as February 2011, or in about three months. In my opinion there are no words to describe how stunningly wrong this is.

July 22, 2010 at 5:38 am 6 comments

Mad World: Messages to the Future at Galeria de la Raza

Chicano Visual Almanac, 2050, Rio Yanez, 2010, detail, digital print

So it looks like Arizona has legalized racial profiling, outlawed Ethnic Studies, and forbidden folks who speak accented English from teaching language arts. The Texas Board of Education has set out to rewrite history, by glossing over the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II, renaming the slave trade “the Atlantic triangular trade,” and emphasizing the significance of hard-line segregationists George Wallace and Lester Maddox in the civil rights movement. The Texas BOE also claims that W.E.B. DuBois, Susan B. Anthony, and Ida B. Wells were “obsessed with oppression.” Funny, that–

To me, Texas and Arizona’s boneheaded, mean-spirited, and utterly reactionary actions are the last gasp of a Eurocentric hegemony desperately trying to cling to its rapidly receding cultural dominance, as U.S. demographics inexorably move toward a more diverse and polyphonic society. The top dogs are about to be ousted and they’re not one bit happy about losing their place of privilege, so they’re going down kicking and screaming. As noted by Gregory Rodriguez, “Even though they are still the majority and collectively maintain more access to wealth and political influence than other groups, whites are acting more and more like an aggrieved minority.” Writer and critic Hua Hsu states,

“According to an August 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, those groups currently categorized as racial minorities—blacks and Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians—will account for a majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042. Among Americans under the age of 18, this shift is projected to take place in 2023, which means that every child born in the United States from here on out will belong to the first post-white generation.”

Not to belabor the point, but not only has the horse bolted, it’s three miles down the road. But as evidenced by the nonsense going on in Arizona and Texas, that doesn’t mean that some people aren’t gonna try locking the door anyways.

Chicano Visual Almanac 2050, Rio Yanez, 2010, digital print

Because of the shenanigans going on in the Southwest, the fun new show at the Galeria de la Raza, Mad World: Messages to the Future, is all too relevant in this wacky country where racial difference has suddenly become a crime. The show looks futureward from a Chicano/Latino perspective, envisioning a time forty years hence when California is projected to become a white-minority state.

Rio Yanez’s tongue-in-cheek print series, Chicano Visual Almanac, 2050, takes a smart and sassy look at possible future Chicanocentric events. These include a description of the ascension of Hector “Lonely Boy” Suarez to the title of “last surviving Chicano gang member,” as well as documentation of “notable attempts to resurrect Cesar Chavez,” next to a visual mashup of Chavez and the Virgen de Guadelupe. Yanez also includes a chart outlining the many iterations-to-be of the Chicano art movement, listing, among others, “2010: Post-Chicano Art,” “2017: Post-Xicano Art,” “2036: Chicano Art,” “2039: Post-Pre-Colonial Art,” “2041: Inverse-Hispanic Art,” and “2050: Chicano Art,” making a sly dig at the artworld’s ever-changing fashion trends and its love for absurd and overly descriptive nomenclature.

Breathing, Smoking, and Drinking (BSD) Device, mixed media mask; 2050 Calendar Year, acrylic on non-woven media, Johanna Poethig, 2010

Johanna Poethig’s paired pieces in the show also speculate about possible future scenarios. Breathing, Smoking, and Drinking (BSD) Device, which is essentially a modified gas mask worked up to admit cigarettes, food and beverages, anticipates our poisonous future environment. But all will not be lost–as Poethig notes, “Since we will all have to wear the pesky masks, the BSD will enable us to continue our bad habits as we schmooze and socialize.” Poethig also features the BSD in her other piece, 2050 Calendar Year, a large-scale calendar that features an image of the Hindu elephant god Ganesh decked out in a BSD, clutching a cigar in one hand and coils of tubing from an oxygen tank in the other. The calendar itself commemorates significant dates in the next forty years including “2031: USA declares war on itself,” “2046: Last White Person Day,” and my favorite, “2039: End of Patriarchy.”

No Home Nowhere, Carlos Castro, 2010, detail, video installation

One of the show’s simplest yet most interesting pieces is Carlos Castro’s three-channel video installation, No Home Nowhere. Castro asked three different U.S. street musicians, originally from Senegal, China, and Latin America, to play the Star-Spangled Banner on their respective instruments. In his installation Castro exhibits video documentation of their performances on three small monitors mounted on the gallery walls. As Castro notes, “Although none of the individuals could play the tune by memory or even understood what the artist was asking, they quickly learned and performed it.”  Castro’s piece suggests that the alacrity with which each musician learned the iconic song signifies that, despite language barriers, cultural differences, and diverse countries of origin, we all do belong in this crazy country, and that inevitably, despite our worst instincts, we all can learn to get along. Not a bad future, overall, and one that I wouldn’t mind sending my grandkids to live in. And hopefully by the time that future rolls around, Arizona and Texas’s reactionary haters will only be a brief, spasmodic, forgotten footnote in history.

PS: For a funny take on Chicano Art shows and the people who love them go here.

Mad World: Messages To The Future

Galeria de la Raza

2857 24th Street

San Francisco CA 94110

415-826-8009

http://www.galeriadelaraza.org

Saturday, May 8, 2010 – Saturday, June 26, 2010

Open Tuesday 1-7pm & Wednesday through Saturday from noon till 6pm

Featuring Jose Arenas, Carlos Castro, Emael, Chris Granillo, Erika Hannes, Hector Dio Mendoza, Johanna Poethig, Lady Reni, Joshua Short, Jose Antonio Suarez, Robert Trujillo, Christina Velazquez, Rio Yanez, and Marilyn Yu

May 25, 2010 at 7:25 am Leave a comment

Know Your Enemy: Factsheet at International Hotel Manilatown Center

untitled, Zeus Bascon, 2010, International Hotel Manilatown Center

Just peeped an excellent show at the Manilatown Heritage Foundation’s gallery at the International Hotel.  Entitled Factsheet: Activism Is Not A Crime, the exhibit includes thirty posters decrying human rights abuses in the Philippines.

The posters were created by artists both in the Philippines and the U.S. and represent a broad range of styles and approaches. Epjay’s Silencio uses straight-up graphics and text in the tradition of the best agit-prop one-sheets. England Hidalgo’s Cleansing takes after punk’s DIY aesthetic, combining line drawing, painting, photocopying, and collage. By hanging them side-by-side the exhibit presents two very different but equally effective visions of what a political poster can be.

Silencio, Epjay, 2010, and Cleansing, England Hidalgo, 2010, International Hotel Manilatown Center

The show is chock-full of these types of juxtapositions, and is a testament to the talent and vision of the artists included. Factsheet is an excellent example of the many ways that artists can conceptualize and produce forceful pieces of political art.

Each poster in the show has a small factsheet that concisely identifies the title, artist, and incident that inspired it. Together with the expressionistic artwork they accompany, these simply worded placards are explosive examples of the power of words and images to define and illuminate injustices.

136th Noli Capulong, J. Pacena, 2010, International Hotel Manilatown Center

For instance, J. Pacena’s 136th Noli Capulong , states “Noli Capulong,  Deputy Secretary-General of Bayan Muna’s Southern Tagalog chapter assassinated Calamba, 2006.” The poster it accompanies is a simple image of a bound man in a Jeep, his body pierced in four places by a sinuous orange line. The title refers to Capulong’s status as the 136th victim of state-sponsored assassination in the Southern Tagalog region—a human-rights activist, he was shot four times while driving his Jeep after meeting with tenants who were fighting eviction.

Through their work the artists in the show are bringing to light and surfacing the wrongdoings of the government, police, church, and military in the Philippines. They’re using their skill and vision to continue pressuring President Gloria Arroyo to correct these abuses and to bring those responsible to justice. Which is pretty cool if you think about it, and a nice way to make significant and meaningful work in an artworld that is all too often narcissistic and irrelevant.

Factsheet: Activism Is Not A Crime

Through April 24, 2010

Closing reception, Sat. April 24, 4-6p

International Hotel Manilatown Center

868 Kearny Street @ Jackson Street

San Francisco CA 94108 | 415-777-1130 Office | 415-399-9580 Gallery

Gallery hours: 1PM – 6PM, Tuesday – Saturday

Admission: Free

UPDATE: from one of the organizers of the show. Closing reception Saturday, April 24th, from 4:00 – 6:00 PM, featuring live performance by Diskarte Namin and food for sale by Coco Lim (partial proceeds benefiting Manilatown Heritage Foundation). Be there!

UPDATE 2: Factsheet has moved across the Bay to Oakland for a run.

Factsheet: Activism is NOT a Crime

May thru June 2010

Asian Resource Gallery

310 Eighth Street, Oakland Chinatown

Open Monday thru Friday, 9am to 6pm

Artists/ curators Lian Ladia and Con Cabrera from Filipino cultural activist collectives in the U.S. (Kwatro Kantos) and the Philippines (ARREST) initiated this project, which is traveling to different cities across the globe.

RECEPTION:  Thursday, May 27th, 6 pm • FREE to the public

Featuring speakers from the recent People’s International Observers Mission and performances by Yaminah Lunar, The Kasamas, and AYPAL dance crew.

For more information, contact:

Greg Jung Morozumi c/o Asian Resource Gallery, 510/532-9692

FACTSHEET is co-sponsored by Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines(SF), Anakbayan (East Bay), BAYAN USA, & Filipino Advocates for Justice

April 1, 2010 at 8:06 am 3 comments

Little Dragon Redux: Mike Lai at Southern Exposure Gallery

Fist atcha, The Legendary Lions vs. the Fists of Fury, Mike Lai, 2010, Southern Exposure Gallery, San Francisco

Just closed out my Chinese New Year celebration last Friday by attending Mike Lai’s wacky and inspired performance, The Legendary Lions vs. The Fists Of Fury. Staged one night only at Southern Exposure gallery in San Franciso’s Mission District, the performance was a face-off between two traditional Chinese lion dance troupes and the Fists of Fury, Lai’s goofy take on that venerable martial arts/dance/acrobatic form that featured two gigantic paper mache fists trailing yellow-and-black tails.

Nails of fury, Bruce Lee Manicurist/ Golden Dragon Massacre, Mike Lai, Queen’s Nails Annex, 2007

The performance continued Lai’s obsession/fascination with all things Bruce Lee and included yellow-and-black custom-made M & M’s emblazoned with Lai’s face in a Little Dragon bob. Mike Lai is heavy into Bruce and several of his past performances have referenced Siu Lung and his films. He’s especially fond of Bruce’s signature yellow-and-black tracksuit from Game of Death and has used that motif a bunch of times, including at an excellent event at the Queen’s Nails Annex Gallery where he painted tiny yellow-and-black designs on the nails of lucky manicurees.

Leung’s White Crane tears it up, Southern Exposure, 2010

For the first couple rounds last Friday at Southern Exposure the battle was pretty well-balanced between the lion dancers and Lai’s nouveau-dance Fists, but it was all over when the second lion dance troupe took the stage. Leung’s White Crane is one of the top lion dance crews in the world and they’ve performed in oodles of international competitions—the very next night following the SoEx battle they carried the gigantic dragon puppet at San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade. So though Lai’s Fists put up a valiant fight, they were no match for the mad skillz of Leung’s veteran troupe.

Mike & the Fists, 2010, Southern Exposure Gallery, San Francisco

Although the event was a bit too oppositional for my acculturist tastes (does it really have to be trad vs. modern?) it was a fun and furious, hella loud experience. The night ended with an impromptu confetti fight between myself, my younger daughter (staying up late to watch performance art with her mama), and Chi-Hui Yang, director and curator of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, which is about to start in exactly two weeks. Chi-Hui informed me that Mike and the Fists will reprise their performance at the Film Fest’s big all-day Festival Forum event on Sat. Mar. 13 at 6pm in Japantown’s Peace Plaza. So check it out—it will be brilliant.

Just for kicks, here’s a video of Leung’s White Crane performing atop ten-foot high poles at the 2008 Genting World Lion Dance Championships in Malaysia.

March 4, 2010 at 7:00 am 3 comments

We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang: One Day: A Collective Narrative Of Tehran

Tehran, Undated, 2009, Merhan Mohajer, C-print, 27.25″H x 27.25″W

Just got back from Intersection for the Arts, where I saw One Day: A Collective Narrative of Tehran, a brilliant group show organized by Iranian American, San Francisco-based Taraneh Hemami, and Ghazaleh Hedayat, an artist living in Iran. Taraneh is a visual artist and curator whose past work includes several projects dealing with her experiences as a diasporic Iranian woman.

Taraneh’s been creating a lot of work that utilizes images downloaded from the web, such as her mixed-media piece Women In Tehran (2007), in which she threaded together small cut-out pictures of downloaded images of women from the Iranian capital city. Her larger 2007 installation, Most Wanted, included a beaded curtain that replicated a poster of fugitive Islamic terrorists that she found on-line, its fuzzy and indistinct images suggesting a culturalist compositing of all Muslims into an overarcing mashup of  conflated identity.

Most Wanted, 2007, Taraneh Hemami, 87,000 6 mm faceted beads, string, pole

Her use of internet-based images reflects her own status as an exile far from her homeland as well as the ways in which diasporic peoples now retain contact with their countries of origin, through websites, social networks and other virtual spaces. By utilizing web-based imagery Tareneh’s work also mirrors the significant role that the internet played in this year’s presidential elections in Iran, during which opposition leaders and activists as well as everyday Iranian citizens communicated their concerns and bypassed the censorship of traditional media outlets through the use of twitter, facebook, youtube, and other net-based media. Without such social-networking sites the Iranian government would likely have been able to completely obfuscate reportage of the protests and demonstrations that took place in the days following the elections.

Find The Lost One, 2007, Neva Razavipour, two-channel video installation

The current show at Intersection builds on some of these concerns in a complex and elegant presentation. The pieces work individually and as a unit, showcasing the mundanities of life in Tehran as well as the heightened tensions now present following the disputed presidential elections. Several of the projects also take on new meaning and significance after the elections and the crackdowns that followed it. Neva Razavipour’s two-channel video installation, Find The Lost One (2007), projects the same image twice, side by side, of passengers exiting a train station in Tehran. With one exception the projections are identical—-Razavipour has digitally erased one of the figures leaving the station. Text running at the bottom of the projection challenges the viewer to “find the lost one” in the right-hand image. As the artist’s statement notes, the piece was created in 2007, but following last summer’s elections the installation has now become a canny commentary on the increased repression of oppositional voices in Tehran.

 

One Day: A Collective Narrative of Tehran, installation view, Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco

Taxiography, Ghazaleh Heyadat’s processed-based pen-and-ink sketches, also take on additional resonance following the June 2009 elections. Each day Heyadat made a drawing by allowing her pen’s gyrations to trace a line based on the bumping and swaying of the bus or train she was riding through Tehran, with each small sketch reflecting the routes Heyadat followed in her sojourns across the sprawling city. Originally created as a means of passing time on Heyadat’s lengthy commute on Tehran’s public transit system, in the wake of last year’s crackdowns the drawings can also be read as records of the furtive travels of fugitive activists seeking refuge from the Basij and other military personnel.

Yekrooz (One Day), 2009, Taraneh Hemami, neon

Taraneh Hemami also has a couple pieces in the show, including Yekrooz, a green neon sign that spells out “one day” in Persian, and Turning Green, a large laser-cut green wool rug that traces a street map of Tehran. The rug’s central placement on the gallery’s floor unifies the exhibit while referencing Mir Hossein Mousavi’s oppositional Green Movement.  It’s also a sly pun on Iran’s more Western-friendly name, Persia, and the ubiquitous carpets of the same name, reflecting the still-fraught relationship between Iran and U.S.

Interestingly enough, of the eight pieces included in the exhibition, only two were physically shipped from Iran. The rest were conceived in Iran, but fabricated in the U.S., from computer files and design plans sent over the web or email. Not only did this strategy save on freight but it also allowed the artists to circumvent censorship of their work by the Iranian government.

Not unlike the role that twitter et al played following the disputed elections, once again the web has aided Iranians in speaking out and voicing their concerns, despite their government’s best efforts to suppress them, and such dauntless determination speaks volumes about the urgent relevancy of this show. The risks that these artists take hopefully will make us here in the U.S. appreciate the casual ease with which we can tweet about our latest DVD purchases, what we had for lunch, or who we support for dogcatcher. With diligence we won’t let net neutrality and other civil rights erode in the U.S., and they’ll remain a given here as they are not in Iran.

One Day: A Collective Narrative of Tehran

Wed, Nov 4 – Sat, Jan 23, 2010 | 12pm – 5pm | FREE

Gallery closed December 20, 2009 – January 4, 2010

Sat. Jan. 16, 7 pm: Artists Talk

Intersection For The Arts

446 Valencia Street

San Francisco, CA 94103-3415
(415) 626-2787

December 22, 2009 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

Have You Heard The News? Recent Updates

Nick Cheung Ka-Fei shoots straight, The Beast Stalker, 2009

A few quick updates to some previous posts. Nick Cheung Ka-Fei has just won another Best Actor statue (along with co-winner Huang Bo) for his role in The Beast Stalker, this time at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, which is the fancy-schmancy Chinese-language equivalent of the Oscars. Nick’s been cleaning up lately, award-wise, and can add his latest accolade to the Best Actor trophies he garnered at the 2009 Hong Kong Film Awards and the Hong Kong Film Critics’ Society Awards, as well as nods at a bunch of film festivals.

Nick Cheung & Huang Bo, co-Best Actors, Golden Horse Awards, 2009

Nick is a long-time Hong Kong movie vet who started out as a Stephen Chow Sing-Chi wannabe back in the 90s and who has since evolved into an intense and serious actor, most notably in Johnnie To’s crime dramas Exiled and Election 1 & 2. An interesting sidenote: Nick’s been very up front about his struggle with clinical depression, which is kinda cool in the ultra-image-conscious world of Hong Kong cinema.

Pahole Sookkasikon, Mr. Hyphen 2009

As of a couple weeks ago, my homeboy Pahole Sookkasikon is the newly crowned Mr. Hyphen 2009. Sponsored by Hyphen Magazine, the Asian American publication and website, the competition is more than just a beauty pageant—judges look at the entrants’ commitment to community service and dedication to la causa. However, the contest also includes a talent portion and a sleepwear competition, so it’s not only about righteous public service. Pahole left the opposition in the dust with his awesome talent presentation, a mind-blowing Muy Thai/disco diva mashup. He also nailed the Q&A section, giving props to the Asian American sistas who have inspired him as an Asian American male.

In addition to being an activist and artist, Pahole’s a grad student (and my former TA) in SF State’s Asian American Studies Department. This year’s first runner-up, Tony Douangviseth, is also a former SFSU AAS student, so AAS now has official bragging rights to the two smartest, slickest, most dedicated Asian American males in the Bay Area.

Detail of large poster

Detail of text overlay on poster (concept), Lord, It’s The Samurai, 2009

And asiansart.org, the collective responsible for this summer’s smash hit intervention, Lord, It’s The Samurai, had a little dustup at the deYoung Museum last Friday when they attempted to show artifacts from the project at the museum’s latest Friday night event. Apparently after the group spent most of the afternoon installing its exhibit, at the last minute functionaries from the deYoung severely censored asiansart’s presentation. This took place while the deYoung people were in phone consultation with their counterparts at the Asian Art Museum, which was the hapless target of the original intervention this summer. More details to be found here on their blog, but it sounds like the cabal of museum administrators protected their own interests at the expense of freedom of expression. Not a pretty thing to do to working Asian American artists, especially by an institution that mounted last year’s outstanding show, Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents. Shame on the deYoung for caving to peer pressure at the expense of provocative and important art—I expected better.

Francis Ng’s jawline, with gun, Fierce West Wind

And once again, just because I can, here’s a picture of Francis Ng looking coy, from his upcoming new cowboy flick, Fierce West Wind (aka Four Fantastic Detectives), directed by Gao Qunshu, which is expected to hit screens all over Asia in spring 2010. Gao’s last effort, The Message, was the box office champ over the National Day weekend in China this past October, and one of its stars, Li Bing Bing, took home the Best Actress crown at this weekend’s Golden Horse Awards. An intense little slice of World War II espionage, The Message features patriotism, backstabbing, intrigue, and a healthy dollop of psychosexual torture, including a couple of excruciating scenes of forceful coercion with a smiling and sinister acupuncturist named Mr. Six. It also introduced me to a new favorite actor, the smoking hot Zhang Hanyu, who plays a soldier turned spy. Looking forward to seeing his award-winning turn in Assembly, which should arrive on my doorstep any day now.

Zhang Hanyu burns it up

UPDATE: Pahole Sookkasikon has gone viral in an interview published by the Associated Press about Mr. Hyphen, community service, and Asian American masculinity. Go Pahi!



UPDATE 2: Here’s a video of Pahole’s talent presentation at Mr. Hyphen, which combines Thai martial arts, disco disco, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. To see Pahole’s amusing introduction go here.

November 29, 2009 at 7:36 am 7 comments

That’s Not My Name: Lord, It’s The Samurai! intervention

altered poster, Lord, It's the Samurai, intervention, 2009

Altered poster, Lord, It's the Samurai!, 2009

Just got tipped to an excellent new intervention critiquing the San Francisco Asian Art Museum’s latest orientalist extravaganza, Lords of the Samurai. My anonymous source sent me the link to Lord, it’s the Samurai!, a brilliant goof on this year’s summer blockbuster which replicates the show’s official website with a twist—it offers a detailed, pointed, and well-researched deconstruction of the problematic exhibition. The faux-site points out the less-than-savory aspects of samurai culture that the AAM conveniently glosses over, including the militarism, slavery, pederasty and misogyny inherent in the “code of the warrior.”

The ersatz site also recognizes the dangers of the exhibit’s glamorization of violence, noting,

No myth here, and it hasn’t changed since the times of the samurai: it’s universal and real, how war dehumanizes everyone.
Aestheticizing violence, normalizing war.
The museum may not want you to see it, but there is blood on those swords.

The faux-site also calls out the AAM’s ongoing Asian fetish with its hilarious tagline (Where Asian Still Means Oriental) and a fun little word-scramble that mixes up past titles from AAM exhibits to form an amalgamation of exotic Asiaphilic fantasies.

The imitation site also makes a cogent connection between the Museum’s soft-peddling of Japanese nationalism and the U.S. government’s interest in remilitarizing Japan, which would aid the U.S. in maintaining the upper hand in Asia. The faux-site also notes that it’s not the first time the AAM has backed up a superpower’s questionable point of view, as seen in Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World, the 2005 show that gave credence to the PRC’s claim that Tibet is really just the back door of China.

Hard-copy flyers, Lord, It's the Samurai!, invention, 2009

Hard-copy flyers, Lord, It's the Samurai!, 2009

All told, this little fakey website is a fine, funny, and extremely effective critique that packs in a copious number of links and information. It’s a companion piece to hard-copy flyers that have been distributed in public brochure racks in San Francisco’s Japantown. Someone upstairs at the AAM must have twigged to the switch since, as noted in the site, the counterfeit flyers have been systematically removed and replaced with the AAM’s own brochures almost as soon as they’ve been distributed. The fake site’s gmail address was also disabled shortly after sending out its first email blast. If the museum’s functionaries are so freaked out that they’re furiously trying to eradicate it, then I’d have to say that the intervention is working.

UPDATE: After just a couple days it appears that Lord, It’s The Samurai! has gone viral. This very blog entry has outstripped the site’s previous champion Shah Rukh Khan (and his six-pack) as the top post of the week and news of the faux-site has travelled far and wide around the blogosphere. Here are a few links:

CBS5’s post

mrpoopypants’ post (scroll down to the comments where an AAM employee defends the museum)

sfist post

8asians post (wherein the bloggers confess to being pwned by the faux-site)

Interview with the anonymous creators of the site here.

sfmike’s post

digdug’s post

UPDATE 2: The Asian Art Museum itself has posted an entry on its blog about the intervention. I’m de-linking it, though, since they’ve selectively refused trackbacks (including mine) from sites critical of their position. Another example of systematic exclusion on their part.

And Japanese history scholars weigh in with their approval of the site, calling it “an instant classic.” There are also some great observations on the significance of museum shows as well as a shout-out to the scholarly rigor of  Lord, It’s The Samurai!

UPDATE 3: Found this nice manifesto about social art intervention on John Jota Leanos’ site and thought I’d toss it out there, since it’s relevant to the conversation at hand. You can check out his art and other relevant information there, too. Plus his significant other was my kid’s kindergarten teacher.

UPDATE 3: Myself and a representative from asiansart.org, the folks who put together the parody website, were on Hard Knock Radio on KPFA-FM this week talking about the intervention. Go here for the stream, or download the interview here.

UPDATE 4: Ken Baker, art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, weighs in here. Mostly positive, with some great dialogue in the user comments (aside from some obvious cluelessness). Viraling!

UPDATE 5: Continued fallout some nine months later as Asian Art Museum director Jay Xu talks in the LA Times about how “painful” it was to be pwned by asiansart.org’s intervention. Maybe getting a clue would ease some of the pain, Jay. asianarts.org talks back here.

August 26, 2009 at 5:21 am 12 comments

Which Side Are You On? 2009 APALA Convention

        Sergeant-at-arms, 2009 APALA convention, Las VegasSergeant-at-arms, 2009 APALA convention, Las Vegas

Just got back from a long weekend in Vegas, but I didn’t do any gambling, see any shows or go to the Liberace Museum (though I did eat at a couple buffets). Instead I spent most of my time consorting with a crowd of fired-up labor union activists at the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) convention. Equal parts awards ceremony, strategy session, and revival meeting, the APALA convention rocked the old-school trade unionist rhetoric with more than 300 delegates from across the country. I got a crash course in union acronyms—represented at the convention were IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), SEIU (Service Employees International Union), AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees), IFPTE (International Federation of Professional and Technical Employees), and CWU (Culinary Workers Union), to name just a few.  I met homecare workers, teachers, electricians, lab techs, hotel and restaurant workers, longshoremen, nurses, ironworkers (not to be confused with steelworkers, who were also in the house), and straight-up union organizers, all of whom were dedicated to the cause of uplifting and honoring the worker and making sure we all get paid a living wage.

John Delloro brings 'em to their feet, 2009 APALA convention, Las Vegas

John Delloro brings 'em to their feet, 2009 APALA convention, Las Vegas

Some of the convention’s most interesting aspects were the various forms of creative expression, both subtle and overt, that repeatedly surfaced during the weekend. Songs and poetry by labor unionists go way back, and one of the convention’s speakers, Johanna Puno Hestor, referenced this long history by quoting from a poem by famed Pinoy farmworker and organizer Philip Vera Cruz. Chants and unions also go together hand in glove and one of my favorite moments was when John Delloro of the Dolores Huerta Labor Institute let rip with a full-throated rendition of the old picket-line chant, “We Are The Union,” getting the whole convention to swing it with him. Several other times during the proceedings a speaker would spontaneously bust out with a rousing chant in various languages including Spanish, Tagalog, and Mandarin as well as English.

APALA convention presenter Kiwi and tats

APALA convention presenter Kiwi and tats

The connections between art and activism were further explicated throughout the convention. Rapper Kiwi, formerly of Native Guns, and Geo Quibuyen, aka Geologic, aka Prometheus Brown, blogger and a member of Seattle’s isangmahal arts kollective and one-half of the rap duo Blues Scholars, led a standing-room-only workshop entitled “Cultural Activism and The Fight For Workers’ Rights,” which looked at the work of sansei singer/songwriter Chris Iijima, Pilipino filmmaker Lino Brocka, Tupac Shakur, and writer Carlos Bulosan, linking their creative work to issues of human rights and social justice. Rick Rocamora gave a slide show of his luminous and evocative black-and-white photographs from “Filipino World War II Soldiers: America’s Second-Class Veterans,” his book about the Pinoy soldiers’ struggle to receive benefits from the U.S. government. On the filmmaking tip, Tam Tran screened “Lost And Found,” her poignant short documentary (see below) about Stephanie Solis, a UCLA undergraduate and undocumented immigrant who entered the U.S. as a child. Both Tran and Solis spoke in support of the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would facilitate legal status for many young people who are, due to the peculiarities of U.S. immigration law, in permanent non-citizen limbo.

All in all the convention was pretty informative and enlightening, with much more lively speeches than the dry-as-dust presentations I’m used hearing at, say, your standard academic conference. I enjoyed the convocation being referred to as “sisters and brothers” and it was fun to hear the boos and gasps of shock when particularly nefarious employers were called on the carpet for their various transgressions (ten-hour work day! no lunch break! no overtime!). The topics discussed were particularly relevant to me since my own union, the California Faculty Association, just voted on whether or not to accept work furloughs equaling a 10% pay cut. Trade unions may seem outdated and retro but with the Republican policies of the last presidential administration resulting in the current economic meltdown, maybe there’s something to be said for fairer labor practices and a return to honoring workers instead of exploiting them. In the end, it’s all about doing right by as many people as possible instead of only looking out for yourself, which really isn’t a bad thing at all.

A few fun facts:

Only 12% of U.S. workers are union members, with only 9% of the private sector unionized.

All of the hotels on the Vegas strip save one (The Venetian, boooo!) are union shops.

It took more than six years to unionize the MGM Grand Hotel.

Here’s Tam Tran’s short about Stephanie Solis and the DREAM Act.

UPDATE: May 16, 2010: Terrible news–Tam Tran was just killed in a car accident in Maine today when a pickup truck crossed the meridian and crashed head on into a car she was riding in. I’d only met Tam once, after she showed the above video, and she was a promising young filmmaker and activist. All thoughts to her family and friends.

UPDATE 2: June 6, 2010. More incredibly  bad news–just found out today that John Delloro died of a heart attack yesterday. This is quite shocking to me since John was an incredibly vibrant person who was literally bursting with life. I’d only met him once, at the APALA convention last year, but I was more than impressed with his incredible energy, dedication, and optimism. The Asian American community has lost a a potentially great leader who has passed long before his time. We can only hope that in his memory we will all continue his work toward peace, justice, and the betterment of the world for all.

———————-

And for good measure, the lyrics to Which Side Are You On?, written by Florence Reece in 1931 during a strike by the United Mine Workers of America in which her husband, Sam Reece, was an organizer.

Which Side Are You On?

Come all you good workers,
Good news to you I’ll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

CHORUS:
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

My daddy was a miner,
And I’m a miner’s son,
And I’ll stick with the union
‘Til every battle’s won.

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Blair.

Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can?
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

Don’t scab for the bosses,
Don’t listen to their lies.
Us poor folks haven’t got a chance
Unless we organize.

July 17, 2009 at 7:56 am 4 comments

Body and Soul: Pahole Sookkasikon’s Art and Activism

Only For Pretend, ink on paper, 18"x24", Pahole Sookkasikan, 2009

Only For Pretend, ink on paper, 18″x24″, Pahole Sookkasikon, 2009

As of last Saturday night, I’m the proud owner of a t-shirt emblazoned with artwork by artist/activist Pahole Sookkasikon. Pahole’s solo show, Only For Pretend, opened at My Trick Pony in San Francisco last weekend, a smart little gallery space that also is a purveyor of custom t-shirts based on designs by the artists featured at the shop.

Pahole’s show is made up of several of his beautiful, impressionistic pen-and-ink drawings on paper. Delicate and dreamlike, the images flow gracefully across the page, with faces and shapes emerging amidst the swirling lines.

In addition to exhibiting the original artwork, My Trick Pony has also made up graphics of Pahole’s drawings for transfer onto nice, non-sweatshop t-shirts from American Apparel in a variety of colors and styles.

The shop’s adaptations of Pahole’s black-and-white drawings are available in several colors, including many metallic options.

Matteo in action, My Trick Pony

Matteo in action, My Trick Pony

Pahole’s pictures take beautifully to the to the t-shirt medium, with their lacy imagery gaining an added layer of feathery abstraction when rendered in metallic glitter.

Gallery proprietor Matteo is masterful on the hot-press, with a keen eye for the proper placement of the picture on each individual shirt.

At the show’s reception he whipped through the creation of several dozen shirts in the space of a couple hours, expertly applying Pahole’s ethereal drawings onto each garment.

Pahole’s exhibit continues through June. Stop by for your own custom t-shirt; visit My Trick Pony’s website for more information.

Pahole has also been tirelessly advocating for the Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Buddhist Temple in Berkeley in its struggle for religious and cultural self-determination. For more than a year the Temple has been in conflict with some of its immediate neighbors who object to the smell, congestion, and lack of parking during the Wat’s Sunday food sharing, which has been taking place since 1994.

Part of the Buddhist tradition of merit-making, the food sharing raises operating funds for the Temple and supports the monks in residence. The Temple has made numerous concessions to the neighbors’ demands, including reducing by half the hours of the food offerings, providing alternate parking spaces for visitors, and increasing trash pickup on Sundays.

Save The Thai Temple poster, 2009

Save The Thai Temple poster, 2009

Neighbors claim that the Temple is running an unlicensed restaurant on its grounds, but the Temple maintains that the food offerings are an important part of its religious traditions. As outlined in a recent Wall Street Journal article:

Abbot Tahn Manas, who has lived at the temple for 22 years, says the event is critical to the Buddhist religious practice of “earning merit.” Monks are forbidden by their religion from earning money or accumulating earthly goods on their own. Providing for monks and temples is the religious duty of Buddhists of the Theravada school; it helps them build goodwill for later in life or for the next life. In Thailand, they earn merit by giving money to monks in the street. Berkeley Buddhists earn merit by volunteering at brunch, thereby serving the temple.

“Our Sunday activity is pretty much like Christians going to church every Sunday,” says Abbot Manas. “Without it, it would be very difficult for us to continue merit making.”

There’s also more than a bit of cultural insensitivity in the neighbors’ complaints, including the accusation that the glorious scent of Thai food is intrusive and offensive. As Veena Dubal notes in Asian Week,

“It smells like coconut milk!” Dubal said. “When I heard those remarks, I felt a tinge of pain. That kind of … xenophobic rhetoric has no space in this diverse community.”

About 20 neighbors continue to pursue their actions against the Temple; in contrast, more than 2000 people have signed a petition in support of the Temple and its facebook group has more than 1400 members.

The Temple hopes to build a new sanctuary on its site, for which it recently has received approval from the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB). However, the Temple faces an appeals hearing before the Berkeley City Council meeting in July 2009, during which the Council can approve or deny the ZAB ruling. The exact time and date for the hearing will be posted on the Save The Thai Temple website as soon as that information is known.

June 18, 2009 at 7:25 am 6 comments

Blood Red and Going Down: Tank Man In Tiananmen Square, part 2

Tank Man - lone citizen vs. PLA tanks, Tiananmen Square, 1989, Jeff Widener

Tank Man - lone citizen vs. PLA tanks, Tiananmen Square, 1989, Jeff Widener

I confess to being taken by melancholy this week as I recalled the events on June 4, 1989 in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. But it’s a good opportunity to think back on those fateful days from a perspective of twenty years later.

In the six weeks prior to when things all went to hell on  June 4  two decades ago, students and workers were peacefully occupying the Square and sympathy was growing across China for their demands for reforms to China’s political and economic systems. Sometime during those six weeks I remember talking on the phone with my friend Rebecca. We thought we were witnessing a revolution in the works and that the Chinese people’s voices would surely be heeded.

Terribly, things turned out differently than we’d hoped and the insurrection was violently crushed by the tanks and guns of the People’s Liberation Army. More horribly, the numbers of the dead were never confirmed, as many bodies were burned in mass cremations, and many other demonstrators were taken elsewhere for execution. China’s official tally of those killed was a ridiculously lowball count of 241 people, most of whom were deemed by the government to be “ruffians” and “armed thugs” who weren’t actually students. The government also claimed that no one was killed in the Square itself. Other estimates by NGOs on site range from 500 to 7,000 people killed that day.

This morning Rebecca forwarded me a link to a project by artist Michael Mandiberg that utilizes the famous image of the Tank Man, the anonymous protestor who blocked a column of tanks the day after the PLA cleared Tiananmen Square of demonstrators. Four years ago Mandiberg conducted an experiment in which he sent copies of the Tank Man image to a dozen commercial artists in China and asked them to paint a replica of the picture. The responses from the artists suggest that some if not all of them were unaware of the image and its historical context, and few knew its source.

Tiananmen Square: You can add the person to painting when you get it, 2005, Michael Mandiberg

Tiananmen Square: You can add the person to painting when you get it, 2005, Michael Mandiberg

Mandiberg notes:

“Of the dozen requests I sent, most were returned with a price and the universal salutation “it is a pleasure to do business with you.” A few painters suggested I just leave the man and the lamp post out, often for unclear reasons: political or aesthetic? One person outright declared that he could not paint the image.”

In the West the image of the Tank Man is well-known, as photographs and video footage of his actions that day were widely disseminated throughout the media at the time. However, in China the image is largely unrecognized, due to the government’s attempts to erase the June 4 events from public memory.

The government has achieved this in part through its severe restrictions on Internet access. In recent days, in an attempt to prevent the Chinese citizenry from getting to online discussions of the Tiananmen Square killings, the Chinese government blocked access to twitter, facebook, and other social networking sites, as well as blogging sites such as wordpress, xanga and blogspot.

But before we go too far in excoriating the Chinese government for its erasure of June 4, let’s remember that historical amnesia is not unique to China. Many World War II Nazi concentration camps sites in Europe have been razed or otherwise obliterated. The Japanese government still hasn’t acknowledged the Rape of Nanking. And lest we start to feel too pleased with ourselves here in the U.S. let’s not forget the Bush Administration’s multiple attempts to rewrite reality, from un-defining waterboarding as torture to linking Iraq to the destruction of the World Trade Center.

So on this grim anniversary it’s vitally important to remember the untold numbers of demonstrators who were silenced twenty years ago on Tiananmen Square. But it’s also significant to note that the Chinese government doesn’t stand alone in its disregard for facts and that our constant vigilance is required to keep ignorance and the obliteration of history at bay.

UPDATE: Thanks to dleedlee for sending along the following information, which fills in some of the backstory of the Tank Man photos and video.

FYI, Frontline is rebroadcasting its The Tank Man program this week.

Also, a New York Times blog posted this interesting piece on the various versions of the ‘tank man’ photo(s).
http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/behind-the-scenes-tank-man-of-tiananmen/

And artist Michael Mandiberg sent me a further link to his flickr site, which contains all of the images from his series:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/theredproject/sets/72157619172370116/

June 7, 2009 at 12:00 am 8 comments

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