‘New Narratives’ explores diverse Asian American experiences
“New Narratives: Reclaiming Asian Identity Through Story,” running through Sept. 8 in Unbound Visual Arts’ virtual gallery, explores the dynamic cultures and experiences of Asian communities around Boston. Curated by Leslie Anne Condon in response to the increased racism against Asian Americans during COVID-19, the show aims to illustrate the diversity in the community.
“I became more focused on celebrating Asian American communities because I felt like we needed an opportunity to uplift ourselves and bring greater visibility to the kind of issues that were impacting our communities,” says Condon. “I wanted to create a space where some of the creative and cultural work being done in the Boston-area Asian communities could be brought to new audiences.”
The show is put on in collaboration with community partners Asian Glow Boston, Asian American Resource Workshop, Dorchester Art Project, Pao Arts Center, Network for Arts Administrators of Color and Subcontinental Drift Boston.
“New Narratives” highlights 40 works by 25 different artists from a variety of backgrounds working in different styles. The virtual gallery can be explored as though walking through a physical space, with the option to click on different artworks for more information and a closer view. Though Condon recognizes what is lost when art isn’t accessible in person, the virtual nature of the show allows it to be viewed by art lovers globally, hopefully bringing these artists and ideas to people who would not otherwise have experienced them.
Many of the works on view explore the dramatically different facets of the Asian American experience. “One of my main goals was to create more visibility around the different ethnic Asian communities in the Boston area. There’s 13 different groups that have at least 2,000 residents in Greater Boston, and that includes Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Pakistani,” says Condon, naming just a few. “Each Asian country has its own unique history that informs our perspectives.”
“Norigae Scroll (Craig)” by Claudia YeeJae Kim uses a traditional Korean method of art and communication, the scroll, but it’s overlaid with a contemporary conversation had through text. The conversation between Kim and someone marked as “Craig” occurred on a dating app and illustrates the fetishization many Asian women experience in that space. Kim references her heritage identity as an Asian woman in the use of the traditional scroll technique, but also shows how the Internet has allowed men to openly indulge their fantasies and stereotypes of Asian women consequence-free.
Zoila Coc-Chang explores her biracial Chinese-Guatemalan identity in “buen provecho/hou mei.” The acrylic and collage piece depicts plants native to each country mixed together in a fantasy landscape of bold colors and textures. Because Coc-Chang rarely sees her background represented, she has built her own world where cultural exchange is fluid and natural.
Condon hopes the show will illustrate that the Asian American experience in Boston and nationally isn’t a monolith, but a network of unique stories and experiences. “In 2020 we are still fighting for the right to drive and shape our own narratives about our own communities,” she says. “Representation matters. And it’s crucial that we prioritize authentic and diverse voices in support of a more equitable society.”