The Museum of Chinese in America

Founded in 1980, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history, heritage, culture and diverse experiences of people of Chinese descent in the United States.

MOCA Monday: Holiday Bazaar

We’re doing things a little differently this week–we’d like to invite you to come shop our Holiday Bazaar!

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Comfort Foods

As we prepare to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends gathered around a meal, I got to thinking about comfort food. Growing up, my family lived across the country from our relatives, and our Thanksgiving stood out less as a time to follow traditions and more as a time to celebrate through cooking together. (In Oregon, with our youthful vegetarianism waxing and waning in popularity, I think there may have even been a few turkey-less years…) My job was always to make the biscuits, a  recipe from my mother’s New Basics Cookbook that I can just barely make from memory still. There are other food traditions we’ve kept going over the years. My mother makes a blue-ribbon-winning linzer torte, and Christmas Eve dinners are always dominated by a rich, creamy macaroni and cheese. One of the best gifts I’ve received was a collection of recipes from my friends and family, and I was thrilled to see my father’s brown bread and my husband’s grandmother’s apple cake included. For me, the comfort foods I treasure are the ones that remind me of being small and underfoot in the kitchen, reaching a hand up to steal a taste, impatiently awaiting a simmering sauce or baking bread. It made me wonder what comfort foods my colleagues craved, and so an email went out, asking for foods (and better yet, recipes.)

Samantha Chin-Wolner found it almost too easy to pick: “…my mom’s congee. I don’t actually have a recipe, but she’d cook the rice down overnight and throw in ginger and chicken. As a kid, I’d often destroy it with an obscene amount of soy sauce. BEYOND simple but so perfect, especially during the fall/winter.” (Serious Eats has a great article on cooking a proper bowl.)

For Sophia Ma, it’s all about the way grandma used to make: “It was a whole chicken, it would sit all day on the stove, and lots of herbs and roots…sometimes she would throw in a whole fish too. Fish, good for the eyes, and chicken, good for the body. And of course it’s also grandma making it too!” (Not Grandma’s soup, but a Momofuku recipe so I have a strong feeling it’s probably delicious: Chicken-Ginger Noodle Soup.)

Herb Tam keeps it simple (and isn’t the best comfort food the simplest?) with “Steamed egg with dried shrimp mixed in with my white rice.” (Looking to buy your own dried shrimp? Check out Chow for sources and tips.)

Marissa Chen comforts herself year-round with “Aji de Gallina!  I crave it every Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and Easter… basically all the time.” (She also included a recipe and a history lesson from La Vida Comida.)

In a nice twist, Ryan Wong remembers Dad’s best recipe (and Mom’s best takeout): “Fried rice the way my dad made it. Exactly five ingredients: eggs, frozen peas, onions, lap cheong (sausage) and rice. Also, mondoo (Korean dumplings) the way Koreatown Plaza in Los Angeles made it – my mom doesn’t cook. She took me and my brother for meals in Koreatown when my dad was on work trips.” (It may not be like how Mom used to buy, but New Yorkers have named Mandoo Bar in Murray Hill the best dumplings in the borough.)

So whether you celebrate with roasted turkey or ma po tofu, from our MOCA family to yours: Happy Thanksgiving.

Emily Chovanec Schappler
Visitor Services Manager

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MOCA Monday: Thanksgiving

The Museum of Chinese in America maintains an extensive archive and collection of Chinese American artifacts and oral histories. MOCA Mondays will briefly highlight one image or item from the collection and/or past exhibitions. For more information, visit our website.

Happy Thanksgiving, MOCA Friends and Family!

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MOCA Monday: Yellow Peril

The Museum of Chinese in America maintains an extensive archive and collection of Chinese American artifacts and oral histories. MOCA Mondays will briefly highlight one image or item from the collection and/or past exhibitions. For more information, visit our website.

The Master Detective, January, 1911. Yoshio Kishi Collection.

This image was included in the show “Archivist of the Yellow Peril: Yoshio Kishi Collecting for a New America”. Yellow peril is a term for the race-based fear that an influx of Asian immigrants would threaten white standards of living. It was also a frequent theme in pulp entertainment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with villains portrayed much in the manner above, where a long-nailed Chinese man is depicted as threatening a white woman. This and other stereotypes are also explored at the Museum in the core exhibition.

MOCA wants to know: how do you respond to this? When you look at an image like this, what thoughts or emotions are stirred? We invite you to share with us in the comments section.

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Alice Yang and Chinese Curators Today

In the early 2000s a friend told me about a curator named Alice Yang and the way she died tragically after being struck by a hit-and-run driver on Canal Street in 1998. We had lost one of the very few established Asian curators who were working in New York’s art scene, my friend lamented. Her remark implied a lost opportunity for aspiring Chinese curators, that if only she were alive, Ms. Yang would be able to champion the causes of other Chinese curators and artists. With her untimely death, a door for Chinese curators to enter the field seemed to have closed.

Ms. Yang was born in Taiwan and by all accounts was headed for a long, brilliant career. She was 35, a little younger than I am now when she passed away, fairly new to her job as Chief Curator of the Parrish Museum in Long Island and just about to open a show of works on paper by Taiwanese artists at The Drawing Center. She had developed her curatorial and scholarly chops through internships at the New Museum and the Whitney Museum.

In retrospect, it turns out that Alice Yang did blaze a trail for Chinese curators because there are now many Chinese curators in New York doing really interesting work, pushing the field in new, unexpected ways, and advancing the craft of curating. I wanted to compile a list (in alphabetical order) of some of these curators, many of whom I’m happy to call my friends and mentors, to highlight the work they’re doing. This list is not meant to be comprehensive; in fact, I hope it’s not. The truth is we need more Chinese curators doing the important work of presenting and interpreting contemporary culture. So to this list, I hope we’ll add many more names in the coming years.

Aimee Chan-Lindquist is an independent curator and the PR / Marketing Manager at EXIT Art. She was previously the director of Christopher Grimes Gallery in Los Angeles. Currently, Aimee is working on an exhibition of artist collectives at Kunsthalle Detroit and other independent curatorial projects.

Alexandra Chang is the Director of Public Programs and Research Manager of the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University. Chang has curated exhibitions and written on contemporary art, graffiti, design and architecture, including co-curating the exhibition Art, Archives and Activism: Martin Wong’s Downtown Crossings at the A/P/A Institute 7th Floor Gallery at NYU in 2009.

Howie Chen founded Dispatch with Gabrielle Giattino in 2007. Dispatch was a New York-based curatorial partnership that was conceived in response to a curatorial field that was increasingly preoccupied with institutional self-administration and formalized bureaucracies. I sadly never visited Dispatch when they were around but I’m sure Howie’s working on interesting projects that will reveal themselves soon. In 2009 Howie curated a series of talks, readings, concerts and performances in conjunction with the Dan Graham retrospective at the Whitney Museum.

Melissa Chiu is Director of the Asia Society Museum in New York and Vice President of the Society’s Global Arts Programming. She was appointed director in 2004 after serving for three years as the Museum’s first curator of contemporary Asian and Asian American art. Among of the highlights of her tenure was the show Art and China’s Revolution (Sept 2008-Jan 2009), which featured art made during and for the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) in China; the recently closed show of Buddhist art from Pakistan, as well as a Zhang Huan retrospective in 2007.

Ingrid Chu is a curator and critic based in New York. In 2008, Ingrid co-founded (along with Savannah Gorton) Forever & Today, Inc., a non-profit alternative art space based in New York’s Chinatown/Lower East Side that allows artists to engage diverse audiences through curated and commissioned exhibitions, site-specific installations, performances, publications, and educational and public programs. This winter, Forever & Today will be presenting a new project by Jack Early and a performance by pioneering Fluxus artist Alison Knowles.

Steven Lam is the Associate Dean at the Cooper Union School of Art, as well as an independent curator. He’s curated exhibitions in New York and Hong Kong, including co-curating Tainted Love at La MaMa Galleria and For Reasons of State at the Kitchen in New York.  Lam focuses his work on how artists connect political activities with creative processes. He’s working on an upcoming show at Cooper Union about the deployment of precious metals in art.

Christopher Lew is the Assistant Curator at MoMA P.S.1 and is currently preparing for the opening of an exhibition by performance artist Clifford Owens, on view November 13, 2011—March 12, 2012. Prior to his current position as Assistant Curator, he served as the Manager of Curatorial Affairs at MoMA P.S.1.  Lew is also an independent curator and organized exhibitions with AICON Gallery in 2010 and Aljira Contemporary Arts Center in 2008.

Olivia Shao, an artist and independent curator, organized an exhibition at MoMA P.S.1. in conjunction with Greater New York, a survey of new art in 2010. This exhibition, titled The Baghdad Batteries was adapted for David Zwirner Gallery that same year and reinterpreted as The Evryali Score.

Jason Sun is the curator of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has worked extensively on a number of exhibitions at the Met, including co-organizing The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty in 2010. Jason is also a welcome new addition to MOCA’s Board of Trustees, lending his expertise on exhibitions and collections policies.

Eugenie Tsai, the John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum, who curated the historically exceptional Robert Smithson retrospective for the Whitney Museum in 2005. Eugenie has recently organized a selection of recent work by Sanford Biggers, titled Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk – An Introspective and is presenting Lee Mingwei’s The Moving Garden project in the Brooklyn Museum’s lobby.

And finally, Ryan Wong is the new Assistant Curator at MOCA, after having worked as an administrator in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Exhibitions Department. He has degrees in Art History and Urban Studies, and I’m looking forward to seeing the mark he’ll be making here at the museum.

Herb Tam
Curator and Director of Exhibitions


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Dance across Water

Author’s Note: As a dance enthusiast, this entry is meant less as a critical review of the performances discussed and more as a way to spark dialogue about modern Chinese and Chinese American culture.

As leaves signaled the start of New York’s new Fall Season, many choice cultural events caught my attention. I was very excited to attend three modern dance performances within a week of each other in late October, including one at MOCA: Reflections (2011) by Chinese American choreographer Lenora Lee, a part of the Works-in-Progress series on Target Free Thursdays. The other two performances were presented by the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) Next Wave Festival. BAM hosted two international dance troupes from Asia: Wang Yuanyuan’s Beijing Dance Theatre, who presented Haze (2009), and Lin Hwai-min’s Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, who performed Water Stains on the Wall (2010).

As I enjoyed the programs, I found myself searching for similarities. I looked in the movements, the themes, and the narratives (or the lack thereof). I wanted to see if these particular choreographers, in these particular pieces, had anything in common for discussion. Given that the choreographers were Chinese, Taiwanese, and Chinese American, I thought there might be some cultural intersection between their works. I was wrong, and was glad of my discovery.

Reflections by Lenora Lee.

Reflections was created by Lenora Lee, a San Francisco-based dancer and choreographer. Lee incorporated martial arts, working with Kei Lun Martial Arts and Enshin Karate and the South San Francisco Dojo, as well as lion dance, contemporary music by Francis Wong, video by Ben Estabrook, text by Genny Lim, and media design by Olivia Ting. At the core of this multi-media production stood the stories of three men in Lee’s family: her grandfather, father and brother. Digging deep into her family’s past while using traditional martial arts and lion dance movements to  root the piece in Chinese culture, Lee explored their collective experiences in a performance about memory, heritage, and the struggle to find oneself within the rapidly changing cultural and global environment.

Water Stains on the Wall was choreographed by Lin Hwai-min, with music by Toshio Hosokawa, lighting by Lulu W.L. Lee, projection by Ethan Wang, and costumes by Lin Ching-ju. It drew its movements from chi kung, internal martial arts, mediation and calligraphy. Wondering how calligraphy might inspire movement? Calligraphers balance the moves of their brush with heavy emphasis across the parchment and weightless transitions between strokes. Dancers of Water Stains on the Wallmimicked that with weighted meditation and flowing movement (which was also reminiscent of chi kung), and a transfer of concentrated energy from one part of the body to another or from one dancer to another.

Water Stains on the Wall by Lin Hwai-min.

Water Stains on the Wall told a simpler story rather than the symbolic history of Reflections, with a basic structure for the audience to “read.” Each dancer and their movements represented the individual characters of a sentence. The piece started with a solo, which made the work’s first “sentence.” Lin then added a dancer, creating a duet—the piece’s second sentence, and so on and so forth until the performance climaxed with eight dancers in complete unison. (All the while playing with combinations, such as having five dancers moving in unison, then breaking them in to a duet and a trio, then a solo and a quartet.) These “sentences” at the end of the piece told a beautiful story of simplicity and grace, energy and strength.

Haze by Wang Yuanyuan.

Haze was choreographed by Wang Yuanyuan, with music from Henryk Gorecki and Biosphere, sound design by Liu Bo, lighting by Han Jiang, set design by Tan Shaoyuan, and costumes by Zhong Jiani. The piece took on the current economic and environmental crises of the world. Given this larger emphasis, Wang was not drawing movement from any one specific culture. Similar to Water Stains on the Wall, there was no narrative in the work. The dancers balanced and performed on a foot-deep cushioned platform, dancing as if they were jumping on a mattress. The theme of unsteady times was reflected in the dancers’ every step and a weighted air manifested as a constant fog which filled the stage.

Based on these descriptions of the performances, there isn’t much that these works had in common. But where I thought I would find cultural similarities was where I instead found the heart of this post—how each of the choreographers chose to work with Chinese culture. Lee set her work squarely within Chinese culture and presented marital arts, both Chinese and Japanese practices without stylizing the movements to create a modern dance form. However, that is exactly what Lin did with his piece. He reinvented very specific concepts within Chinese culture, like calligraphy and chi kung, and in doing so he brought into being something new.

Wang could certainly have done the same with Haze. Not only because she was the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony choreographer (in which she utilized that knowledge to modernize various Chinese dances), but also that China is the subject of great environmental concern. But Wang chose instead to create a 70 minute piece completely free of specific cultural references, making the piece quite neutral and therefore international. In this way, it reflects the truth of the situation: the economic and environmental concerns are in fact global.

I offer as well that Wang was not looking inward towards Chinese culture because China also does not looking inward. China has instead chosen to position itself as a global power, defined through the international lens. Further similarities can be found in Lin’s pieces, as Taiwan’s tumultuous relationship with China is brought to the forefront: the piece was tethered to Chinese traditions, but worked to modernize them at the same time. As for Reflections, Lee’s family experiences portrayed in the piece also reflected the search of other Chinese Americans for a contemporary identity. Whether purposefully or not, the choreographers each projected the deeper undercurrents of their respective heritage.

I mentioned I was wrong, and I am glad of it. I wasn’t glad to find them different, they were bound to be, given the choreographers’ backgrounds and experiences. I was glad to have witness the three distinct approaches to the use of, or the purposeful disregard for, Chinese cultural influence in these three fairly new works. Not only did it provide a framework for my discussion, but also demonstrated the varied focuses our contemporaries take in the manipulation of culture, thereby moving us forward in time in these interesting and intersecting ways.

Sophia Ma
Assistant to the Director

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MOCA Monday: Flushing Ballroom

The Museum of Chinese in America maintains an extensive archive and collection of Chinese American artifacts and oral histories. MOCA Mondays will briefly highlight one image or item from the collection. For more information, visit our website.

Ballroom by photographer Kien Lee.

In 2003 the Museum of Chinese in America presented “Main Street, Flushing USA”, a creative documentation project around the Chinese American community in Flushing, Queens. The exhibition included photographs by Kien Lee, who said of his work “What I find for myself is that there is also more things going around you then you think.  Like the people sitting in front of the library enjoying the night air, ballroom dancing at night. What I tried to show in my images is how Flushing is at night.”

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