The idea for this curated group show started with President Obama’s official declaration of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in May two years ago, and in honor of the designation, Vessel Gallery is dedicating two months for Excuse Me, Can I See Your ID? This show is an exploration of Asian American identity, in all of its complexities and nuances, through art and film.
Considering these first days of the new administration, I fear President Obama’s declaration of this honorary month to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander Americans (APIAs) may be retracted or redefined in some manner. The present threats of the rise of white nationalism in the executive branch, the longstanding issues of immigration and deportation (of Arabs, Muslims, and Asians as well), as well as existing and heightened national registries all loom large in my mind as I organize this show. I will make it my responsibility to maintain a creative safe space for artists and the public to experience art at Vessel Gallery. In Excuse Me, Can I See Your ID?, I want to shine light and give space and time to Asian American artists, to understand our own community’s issues both historically and in our present moment. As a daily practice I personally focus an intention towards some sort of action or activism, and if the day allows more, I do more. So I turn to curating.
Following two terms under Obama, we have seen more in the way of multiracial citizens, more intersectionality, defined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, which states that oppression and oppressive institutions in a society are interconnected, and things like racism and sexism work together to create varying levels of oppression on different groups and individuals. Intersectionality shows us that systemic oppression is not a checklist of various isms but is instead a multilayered concept, showing that these things are interrelated and continuously shaped by one another, and mediated by the state. We have movements such as Black Lives Matter, and the interconnected struggles of people and women of color, as well as the discourse happening around Asian and Pacific Islander American identities in the context of racial hierarchies. Constructing and understanding one’s own identity within the structures of oppression by neo-colonial societies is critical to understanding the context of race in America. Dispelling assumptions is part of this work, and is part of the intent behind this show. By acknowledging our shared histories such as post-Exclusionary Act of 1882, 75 years post internment of Japanese Americans, and now weeks just into the Muslim Ban, we can bring to focus the concept of resilience by our diverse AIPA communities. We are vast, we are resilient, we continue to contribute to the arts, share of ourselves openly, and authentically. This is a chance to discover our stories in a new context. By examining a range of artworks and films by Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, we can begin to comprehend the individuality of each story, each artist’s identity and how they perceive their identity – as well as the complexities and range of stories within the APIA community.
I am most excited to put forth Vessel’s first film screening. Jasmine Lee Ehrhardt has curated a series of short films by Asian American filmmakers with intriguing, fascinating stories. This series examines different articulations of Asian/-American identity through state apparatuses, conventions of gender and sexuality, and our relationships to empire, national identities, and the self.
I hope you will join us for the months of April and May as we celebrate this dynamic diverse collection of works by local Asian American artists and filmmakers.
—Lonnie Lee, Director, Vessel Gallery
Image: Cherisse Alcantara, The Circle, 2017, oil painting, 48 x 60 inches.