COURTESY MASAHIRO NOGUCHI
Jean Shin creates her installation, "Unraveling," using donated sweaters from Asian art communities. The work is part of "One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now," a traveling exhibit by the Asia Society that will open at the Honolulu Academy of Arts on Wednesday.
To each his own
A traveling exhibit highlights the diversity among Asian-American artists in the United States
Commonality binds communities. Ironically, the point of "One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now" might be that there's little commonality within this group, aside of race. In fact, the diversity of works by 17 emerging artists on the national Asian-American art scene inspired the show's title, which is based on Blondie's 1978 hit.
'One Way or Another'
Part of the Honolulu Academy of Arts' "Asian Sensation" series of exhibits and events
» On exhibit: Wednesday through Aug. 31
» Place: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St.
» Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays
» Admission: $10; $5 seniors, students and military; children free
» Call: 532-8700
» Also: Artist discussion with Karin Higa, Michael Arcega, Jean Shin and Mika Tajima, 7:30 p.m. June 26, Doris Duke Theatre, free.
"The importance of the exhibit is that it shows how the Asian-American creative experience is diverse. There is literally no one way of working for young artists today," says Karin Higa, senior curator of art at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles and one of three curators for "One Way or Another," the latest high-profile exhibit at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. "Their work defies categorization."
FOR NEW YORK ARTIST Jean Shin, the concept of community has had an enduring presence. Shin works with what she refers to as "life's leftovers" -- old pill bottles, computer keyboards, eyeglasses and clothing -- which she transforms into beautiful, often large-scale works of art that explore the items' ties to our collective memories.
"The common thread is that (the materials) represent people's lives," she says. "Eyeglasses and clothing are almost an extension of the body. Some pieces look worn, so they provide memories of their old work. There is an immediacy, an intimacy."
HAROON CHAUDHRY / COURTESY SAIRA WASIM
Saira Wasim's "New World Order," a gouache and gold piece on wasli paper.
For "One Way or Another," Shin will create an installation using sweaters donated by members of the Asian art communities of every city her exhibit has visited. It began in New York, and after having traveled to Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the exhibit will almost double in size in Honolulu.
Shin cuts and unravels the sweaters, pins pieces to walls and hangs a web sculpture of yarn across the gallery.
"The (pinned) sweaters are unique; they're harmonious, beautiful and pleasant," Shin says. "The web creates chaos. It's our network. It reflects how people outside our community think Asians are banded together, but really, we're rather complex and individualized."
COURTESY ALA EBTEKAR
A detail shot of "Elemental," by Ala Ebtekar.
SHIN SAYS Asian-American artists who grew up in the 1970s and '80s differ from those of the previous generation because they are free of identity politics. The elder artists' work "spoke to the struggle and richness of being Asian American," Shin says. "It was an important part of who they were." In contrast, "being Asian is not something we have to worry about anymore. Many contemporary Asian-American artists are considered mainstream."
Curator Higa says colleagues have sometimes questioned her about the show's racial basis. But she believes "One Way or Another" hits upon important issues.
"Race still matters in the American experience; how it matters is changing," Higa says. "When Jean Shin can say that race isn't really important, that's signifying change. This show takes race as a starting point. These artists have a shared ethnic heritage, but that their work doesn't look the same -- that is exciting."