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: Music at MOCA Follow Up

Last Friday’s MOCAMIX was an awesome evening. Many thanks to Min Xiao Fen and Christopher Yahng for kicking off this fantastic new series! (Interested in attending MOCA programs? Check out our website and join our mailing list!)

Min Xiao Fen and Christopher Yahng perform at MOCAMIX July 13, 2012. (Photo credit: Peter Fink)

Filed under: MOCA, Public Programs

MOCA Monday: Music at MOCA, Past and Present

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.

We loved this old Basement Jazz flyer, especially in light of our upcoming inaugural MOCAMIX concert, featuring Christopher Yahng Jazz Trio and Master Pipa Player Min Xiao-Fen. We hope to see you there!

The flyer for the upcoming MOCAMIX. RSVP now!

A basement workshop flyer circa 1977.

Filed under: Collections, MOCA, MOCA Monday, Public Programs, ,

Taproots

United States Service Men in World War II. Courtesy MOCA Collections.

The photo above, which my family donated to the MOCA Archives, depicts my grandfather and other Asian American service men on leave from active duty during their service in World War II.

My grandfather, pictured front and center, is listed as Tommy Chin.  A paper son, he entered the United States as a teenager under the name Sing G. Tom.  He later enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, touring the coast of Gibraltar, Japan, and other parts overseas.  Under the G.I. Bill, he received his accounting degree from what is now known as New York University and, quite some years afterwards, was naturalized as a U.S. citizen, officially adopting the American name of Tom Y.M. Chen.  Over the next fifty or so years, my grandfather’s life became interwoven with the emergence of New York City’s Chinatown, serving as head of the Chan Family Association and as one of the founding Board members of Confucius Plaza.

Much about the photo is unknown to me – where exactly it was taken, why they were all gathered there, whose hand penned the caption, what they were all laughing at.  My grandfather and my grandmother had not yet met in the restaurant where he worked while attending school.  My father and his siblings had not yet attended NYU, nor had my sister, nor my cousin.  I had not yet traveled to China to heung ha, to visit his home village – one of the ancestral taproots to my family tree.

All I know is that in 1943, my grandfather was 22 and about to start a life-long relationship with this country.  Anchored in New York, his life was one of many individual radii that extended and overlapped with one another, creating a place and a community where none had existed before.

Marissa W. Chen
Development Assistant

 

Filed under: Collections, MOCA, , , , , , ,

MOCA Monday: My Circus (Virtual Salon)

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.

Ma Liang, My Circus I (C-print, 2003.)

The Virtual Salon: Chinese Transnational Photographers in the Digital Age (2006) was a photography exhibit of works by the Chinese Artist Network (CAN). Through an examination of CAN’s work, Virtual Salon showed how the digital revolution had affected artists and challenged the discourse surrounding contemporary art at that time. Ma Liang, one of the featured artists (the exhibition also included photographers Felix Tian, Wang Yishu and Xie Wenyue), is known for his theatrical images, filled with costumes and props and shot on unusual sets.

Filed under: Collections, Exhibitions, MOCA, MOCA Monday, , , , , , ,

Before and After Jeremy Lin

The Jeremy Lin spectacle pointed to a gaping absence in American life. The universal surprise, ignorant racial slurring, media frenzy, and high expectations poured onto the 23-year-old burst forth from a decades-old dam of suppressed frustration and misunderstanding.

Jeremy Lin’s race matters. How, in 2012, when we are a supposedly post-racial society in which Asian-Americans are supposedly succeeding and where discrimination has supposedly ended, did this symbiosis of fascination and condescension emerge? Talking about race is hard for Americans; when it comes to Asians we seem to be at a complete loss.

This is not an essay about Jeremy Lin. I admire his talent and conduct on and off court, but his life story has already been discussed and rehashed many times.

The great elephant in the room is the lack of precedent, and no one seems able to say why that is so. Absences are harder to talk about than icons.

Where are the Asian-American basketball stars?

In the cultural and political life of America, being here in large numbers is never itself enough to ensure representation. Chinese people have been in America since the mid-1800s. Not one of them could jump? I have seen a lot of commentators more or less explain that “Asians just don’t play sports.” Assume, for a second, that this is true.

There has been an amazing growth of Asian professionals since the 1965 immigration bill – doctors, lawyers, bankers, scientists. This is the origin of the most pervasive and insidious stereotype against Asians in America today: “model minority.” Let’s please leave aside the tales of mythical-Asian-genius or Confucian-spiritual-scholar-quest. Take a simpler example: if your family witnessed the crushing poverty and brutality of the Cultural Revolution in China, making your kids do extra homework to ensure a good job doesn’t sound so extreme. The concerns of Asian immigrants (like everyone else’s concerns) are attributable to material and historical forces rather than some pseudo-scientific “inner work ethic.”

TIME Magazine's cover for a feature on Asian American "Whiz Kids".

White-collar stability is the great American promise to the children of hard-working immigrants.  So if “Asians don’t play sports,” it is because a career in professional sports, unlike a white-collar path, is an unstable and uncertain gamble. I don’t need to repeat the many statistics about drop-out youths led by unreasonable hopes, of injuries leading to ruined careers and poverty.

But then, Asians do play sports – lots of them. Just not on TV. The lack of Asians in professional sports perpetuates the idea that no Asian can make it. A lot of people have speculated that Lin’s Asianness might have been a barrier to his recruitment. I cannot offer an opinion there. But I do believe that in hiring rooms across the country, particularly for leadership positions, people tend to choose people who look like those they are used to hiring. I imagine something similar happens when picking teams on high school courts. And on the flip side, if a talent like Lin can be passed over by recruiters, what reason do other Asian youth have to try?

Jeremy Lin broke a color line. It was not a hard rule like the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ Jackie Robinson upset sixty-five years ago, but took far longer to cross. Race lines in contemporary America are not written as law, but work in a system of de facto barriers that are far harder to measure: media representation, racial assumptions, educational and economic opportunity.

Where are the Asian men?

If you have read the blog Angry Asian Man or the article “Paper Tigers” by Wesley Yang, you know that a lot of Asian men are, indeed, angry. Until Jeremy Lin, most of America didn’t notice or care, let alone ask why that might be.

Think of all the popular images of Asian men you have seen, from Mickey Rooney’s yellow face role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to the character Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles to the smiling figures on Abercrombie and Fitch’s laundry t-shirt (“Two Wongs Can Make It White”) to the host of background caricatures of waiters, cooks, laundrymen, deli owners, and crime bosses on TV and in movies. Asian men find themselves caught in a paradox: even if they are revolted by those images, they are forced by repetition to internalize them.

The Brides of Fu Manchu (from MOCA Collections.)

This demoralizing cycle has its roots in the 19th century, when Chinese male laborers vastly outnumbered Chinese women: a threat to polite white society. While Asian women were exotified, Asian men were vilified. In popular American culture, Asian men have played the roles of coolies, opium lords, communist spies, and, most recently, nerds; throughout they have been silent, untrustworthy, and inscrutable. The culture industry encourages the repetition of stereotypes rather than breakouts: we expect to see Asians in certain roles, Asians are cast in those roles, and so on.

Writers like Eddie Huang and Jay Caspian Kang talk about Jeremy Lin like the second coming – the first being Bruce Lee. Lee, like Lin, broke a color barrier, changed his industry, and became a hero to a legion of young people, especially Asian men. He also suffered a slew of hatred and parody. Lee died almost forty years ago – it is unbelievable that America has gone this long without another game-changer.

When Jeremy Lin scores in the double digits, invents a handshake with Landry Fields, yells after sinking a three, he chisels at the monolith of stereotypes that we have been fed since the 1800s.

The most surprising reaction I have seen to Jeremy Lin has been from many Asian-American friends and colleagues: fear. They are on edge every time the Knicks lose a game, hold their breath when Lin stumbles. What they fear, I think, is an onslaught of racial slurs and jeers, a backlash that dismisses Lin’s rise as a fluke that changed nothing. The ESPN headline incident proved their fears founded.

To the rest of America: don’t keep us in fear. We shouldn’t have to cringe every time the Knicks play. Admire Jeremy Lin, but ask the harder questions.  Lin came out of nowhere, but that nowhere is what Asians have been dealing with for years.

Thank you, Jeremy Lin, for forcing us to have this conversation. Now it’s on the rest of America to rise to the occasion.

Ryan Wong
Assistant Curator

Filed under: Exhibitions, MOCA, , , , , , , ,

MOCA Monday: Lee Mingwei’s The Travelers

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.

Artist Lee Mingwei commissioned books that asked participants to reflect on the experience of leaving home.

In a break from MOCA Monday’s commitment to showcasing images from the collections, we’d like to share an image from a current exhibition: Lee Mingwei’s The Travelers. This piece was just written up in The New Yorker’s Goings on About Town. We invite you to view it through March 26. From their piece:

Two impressive installations by the Taiwanese-born artist grapple with the meaning of home. In “The Quartet Project” (2005), four video monitors, tucked behind partitions, document musicians performing Dvořák’s Op. 96 in F Major; known as the “American string quartet,” it was written while the Czech composer was on an extended visit to the U.S. The ambient play of light on the wall evokes both domesticity (home fires burning) and alienation (the flicker of TV spied through a stranger’s window). For “The Travelers,” which was commissioned by the museum in 2010, Lee made a hundred blank notebooks and invited participants to write down their thoughts about leaving home and then pass the books on to others and ask them to do the same. An air of distance is evident. One woman notes that in Europe, she says she’s from the U.S., in New York, she says she’s from California, and in San Francisco, she says she’s from Taipei. Even Maya Lin, who designed the museum, admits, “I still see myself as a Midwesterner, not a true New Yorker.” Through March 26.

Filed under: Exhibitions, Lee Mingwei’s Blog for The Travelers, MOCA, MOCA Monday, , , , ,

MOCA Monday: Civil Rights

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.

In 1963, more than 200,000 people participated in the March on Washington demonstrations. It was there that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his electrifying “I Have a Dream” speech. On this day, MOCA is proud to honor the many protestors (of every color, class and creed) who have worked together to move this country closer to Dr. King’s dream.

Filed under: MOCA, MOCA Monday, , ,

My Whitney Biennial: Herb Tam and the problem with group exhibitions

Our Curator and Director of Exhibitions Herb Tam wrote a response to the Whitney Biennial on his personal blog Mind Spray, which has quickly gained traction in the online art world (including as the introduction to an article in the Huffington Post.) In case you’ve missed it, we present his original post here.

Every two years when the artists list for the Whitney Biennial gets released, emotional and intellectual debates stir about who was left out and what communities went unserved. It was no different this time around as the museum released Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sander’s selections for the 2012 version, likely to be the last in the Whitney’s current Marcel Breuer-designed building as it readies for the move to the meatpacking district. My twitter feed and various art blogs streamed early opinions – some expressed relief to see deserving artists finally make the cut, others bemoaned the under-representation of women and minority artists, there was an observation that the list seemed “Artforum-y,” etc.

All the attention is both a gift and a curse for its curators. The biennial, like the Oscar Awards, will always be judged harshly because its grand mission and history to survey the art of the contemporary (American?) moment makes it among the most prestigious group exhibitions to be included in, and also sets up an impossibly ambitious thesis to satisfy. I don’t envy the kinds of conceptual, logistical and political decisions the curators had and will have to face. The most important decisions are out of the way for them: deciding who’s on the final list. A few weeks ago artist and critic Sharon Butler, who writes the blog Two Coats of Paint, anticipating negative reaction to the leaked list, issued a challenge on her twitter (@TwoCoats): “everyone shld curate their 51-artist #whibi2012“.

So I decided to compile my own imaginary Whitney Biennial artists list, based on my conception of America as always carried along by the undercurrent of race. My decade was the 90s and my biennial would bring forth identity politics. It would look back into the 90s at how the politics of race and ethnicity were argued for, and in what kind of language. It would then recalibrate those debates in today’s terms, upon today’s means of communication and political struggle, to get a picture of racial dynamics now.

I was convinced nobody else thought this way until a few days ago when art critic Claire Barliant mentioned she had also been thinking seriously about art dealing with identity politics. How its moment had passed in the 90s, with much of the work dismissed as “victim” art, never to see critical attention return. What are the real reasons behind this, we wondered. Now was the time to do a show about this work, Claire asserted. A survey of its key works from the past and newer work that takes up the same issues today. We agreed that identity politics in art is well overdue its retrospective and contemporary attention. I was happy to hear someone else be so in tune with what I was feeling and this conversation prompted a revisiting of my list. Claire talked about identity politics as it related to sexual orientation and gender, which I hadn’t considered for my list, but which should be included in any show broadly stated as being about identity politics. I didn’t include those artists here because of time constraints.

Some of the artists in my list (see below) may be upset that their work is seen through this frame, and those that aren’t on it may be disgruntled by the omission (though I doubt that). It was a difficult list to compile, though easier because nothing was at stake. This show won’t go on, and I highly doubt I’ll ever be asked to curate one of these. Having gone through this exercise, I can only imagine the agony of the Whitney Biennial curators as they made excruciating decisions to exclude a lot of deserving artists, many of whom are their friends. But when their biennial opens the light of criticism, envy and adoration will shine brightly on them and the artists they’ve selected. For now, I hope you read these names carefully and maybe do a google search of them. Their work deserves the attention and I’m intoxicated with excitement thinking about their work assembled together some day.

Here’s my list:

Jaishri Abichandani, Manuel Acevedo, Derrick Adams,Terry Adkins, Elia Alba, Laylah Ali, Blanka Amezkua, Tomie Arai, Nicole Awai, Nadia Ayari, Radcliffe Bailey, Tamy Ben-Tor, Sanford Biggers, Karlos Carcamo, Nick Cave, Patty Chang, Mel Chin, Ken Chu, Seth Cohen, Robert Colescott, Papo Colo, William Cordova, Jimmie Durham, Brendan Fernandes, Benin Ford, Coco Fusco, Chitra Ganesh, Rupert Garcia, Rico Gatson, Mariam Ghani, Renee Green, Alejandro Guzman, David Hammons, Skowmon Hastanan, Leslie Hewitt, Donna Huanca, Arlan Huang, Yoko Inoue, Emily Jacir, Arthur Jafa, Rashid Johnson, Jennie C. Jones, Brad Kalhamer, Jayson Keeling, Swati Khurana, Byron Kim, Terence Koh, Simone Leigh, Shaun Leonardo, Lam + Lin, Bing Lee, Nikki S. Lee, Kalup Linzy, Miguel Luciano, James Luna, Tala Madani, Kerry James Marshall, Charles McGill, Yong Soon Min, Ivan Monforte, Irvin Morazan, Yamini Nayar, Manuel Ocampo, Joe Overstreet, Cliff Owens, Fahamu Pecou, Paul Pfeiffer, Adrian Piper, William Pope.L, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Sara Rahbar, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, Faith Ringgold, Athena Robles, Rafael Sanchez (the one who had a solo show at Exit Art in 2010), Jacolby Satterwhite, Dread Scott, Seher Shah, Xaviera Simmons, Jeff Sonhouse, Mary Ting, Slavs & Tatars, Sol’Sax, Hong-An Truong, Juana Valdes, Mary Valverde, Kara Walker, Kay WalkingStick, Hank Willis Thomas, Saya Woolfalk, Lynne Yamamoto

Now we want to know: what do you think? Are group exhibitions inherently problematic? Should we pursue a new model? Who would you include in a group show or to whom would you give a solo exhibition?

Filed under: Exhibitions, MOCA, , , , ,

MOCA Monday: Fly to Freedom

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.

A ship made entirely of folded paper by refugees detained after the Golden Venture ran aground.

MOCA’s Fly to Freedom Collection includes 123 paper sculpture created by passengers of the ship Golden Venture.  The Golden Venture ran aground on June 6, 1993 and a significant portion of the nearly 300 passengers were held in detention by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, some for up to four years.  Detainees created sculptures first as gifts to pro-bono lawyers who took up their cases, and later, to pass time during the long days spent incarcerated.  Sculptures vary in design and subject matter, including simple pineapples to more complex forms like eagles, which supporters began to call “freedom birds.”  While connected to a specific immigrant experience, this collection illuminates the development, transmission, evolution, and maintenance of an often over-looked traditional art form.

Filed under: Collections, MOCA, MOCA Monday, , , , , ,

Legacy Awards Dinner: December 12

The Museum staff has been hard at work for many months now preparing for this year’s Legacy Awards Dinner on Monday, December 12. We are thrilled to be presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to Oscar L. Tang, as well as Legacy Awards to David Liu, Dominic Ng, and Pichet Ong. The evening honors these inspiring individuals for their outstanding achievements and contributions to the ongoing legacy of the Chinese in America. The video below highlights last year’s fantastic event–we can’t wait to share the 2011 video with you soon!

 

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MOCA on Twitter

  • We've moved! Please follow along @mocanyc for Museum exhibitions and programs information and culturally relevant links. 4 years ago