Dare to be an artist: young Asian Pacific Islander Americans show their true colors at KSWs APAture.
Bennett Lin and his Berkeley based Indie pop trio The Yearlings was scheduled to play at APAture 2001 last weekend when he ran into unforeseen circumstances. Besides having to fire his drummer, Lins lead guitarist Indian American Raj Mehta was robbed and beaten up at a local laundry mat that Saturday morning. Well, he looks sort of like Osama Bin Laden. You know, with those gentle features. Maybe that has something to do with him getting beaten up, says a frazzled Lin sheepishly back stage, one hand scratching his head.
But for all his Bambi like awkwardness on stage, Lin held his own as a soloist, and surprised the audience with a set of sensitive, dreamy folk songs that sent the girls whistling. The Girl with the saddest smile, Ill never find, cause I learned the saddest smile, in the end is mine. Lin sang with his electric guitar in his honey tenor voice.
Lin is just one of 85 emerging solo artists/groups selected to show their work at this years APAture: A Window in the the art of young Asian Pacific Americans, a multi-disciplinary art festival sponsored by Kearny Street Workshop-Next, a program of Kearny Street Workshop dedicated to offering Bay Area Asian Pacific Islander Americans between the ages of 18 - 35 a space to find themselves as artists and community members. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C., however, many of the artists may have felt stranded like Lin did that day.
Photos . David Huang
Top row (left to right): detail from lino cut postcard series B 66 by Mark Miyake, 2000. The GAPA Dance Company puts together a mixed genre dance performance at the main event. 300-plus beautiful people came through at the gallery opening on Sept. 21. Composite #1: Oriental Mystery Man by Gerry Chow, mixed media, 2001.
Bottom row (left to right): Featured poet Russell Reza-Khaliq Gonzaga shares his words at the main event. Artist Kahlon poses as a a European child sitting on her Indian Ayahs lap, with APAturite Diana Ip. Peter Nguyen, drummer for eE, keeps the beat. Gennifer Hirano performs Asian Princess at the main event. Gallery-goer tries out a new identity with featured artist Raj Kahlons Identity Theories: Indian Woman, 2001.
None of our community members had a chance to respond, explains Claire Light, program manager for Kearny Street Workshop. It definitely altered the mood. Artwork is not something that happens quickly. As a result, though, KSW has decided to dedicate this years event to the victims, their families and friends affected by the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Now in its third year, APAture highlights the work of artists from the literary, spoken word, visual arts, music, dance, theater, and film/video categories. Sept. 18 - 29, over a hundred APIA artists participated in a two week marathon of gallery exhibitions, zine tables, panel discussions, literary readings and live performances held at SomArts Cultural Center in San Franciscos SOMA district.
APAture artists are not screened based on content, says Light, who cites over a hundred submissions for this year. We go out and find artists who do work and encourage them to submit. We are not looking for a best work, but a picture of what people in our community is doing.
But APAture is making large strides in that direction. The work presented over these past two weeks, were of all shades and stripes, running the gamut from serious spoken word poetry to heartfelt and earnest comedy.
The exuberantly happy Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA) dance troupe presented a funky house routine choreographed by Michael Palad, which mixed Asian martial arts gestures and dragon red fans, with some dancers in blue vests trailing long white Asian opera sleeves. Recently in residence at Jon Sims Center for the Arts, GAPA has also performed for the United States of Asian America Festival and Queer Arts Festival. Says Luis Fernandez of GAPA, This is our third year participating in APAture and contributing dance numbers to the event. Weve always felt welcome and encouraged to participate with the other artists at this unique exhibition for Asian Americans.
Many APIAs in the audience, though clearly supportive and wide-eyed, dont know how to react to Asian artists on stage, because seeing them up there is like seeing themselves doing a brand new thing. Theres not been enough of this kind of traditional cultural support for the idea of artist to become an everyday part Asian American cultural consciousness.
Featured dance artist Neela Moorty, a principal dancer with the Shakti Dance Company in Los Angeles for the past 10 years, performed a traditional Bharata Natyam, a classical dance of South India before juxtaposing this very expressive Indian dance form to the words of poet Wei Ming Dariotis about the violence done to women. Her experimental dance collaboration with a Filipino drummer, however, did not compute.
In a way, the sheer amount of art to see, hear, touch and experience at APAture 2001 is overwhelming. In another way, the low-tech production attests to the fact that there are more Asian artists out there than current funding sources are supporting.
On a more serious note, spoken word artist Pireeni Sundaralingam, whose work has appeared in the The Oxford and Cambridge Anthology of Poetry, used her soothing voice and the rhythm of words to craft sensual poetry about her war torn country of Sri Lanka. In Writing Letters she calls out, I stand as a poet on the Western stage / crying out over our loss / I cannot send you post cards, knowing the lines of people who stand between us / checking each word / the most sensitive audience I could ask for, the government.
These artists have taken the first step, crossed the line. They are calling to the audience to join them and experience a creative reality. The audience would like to, but are shy, unsure of themselves, obviously enjoying the festivities and being in a performance space where their own kind are in the spotlight. And of all the artists I have ever seen, so much of their work deals with tradition, breaking them or struggling with them or upholding and or breaking away and assimilating into mainstream popular art. This years APAture artists appear to be in the throes of giving birth to a more self-confident American identity, debating how far they can go before they are called or yanked back to their roots.
Featured Literary Artist Sabina Chen, a writer in residence at Hedgebrook who graduated from Stanford University and UC Davis, read her Canyons, a short story that traced the inner reflections of a Chinese immigrant mother as she watched with great hopes her daughter Helen grow up, only to be destroyed by leukemia right before her eyes. My daughter with her beautiful phoenix eyes / who will never wear a red chi-piao for her wedding day. Chens reading had a few members of the audience wiping their eyes. Her fiction has been published in the High Plains Literary Review.
Poet Ming Jung Kim shared how Korean American girls feel about American food in Lunch Bags. The strange tastes peanut butter, jam or turkey sandwiches and sliced fruit, are all forgotten when her dad finally stopped making Korean lunches to bring her McDonalds food instead. Now a leading humor dotcom columnist for pop culture APIA webzine II stix, she knows all too well embarrassment and dread all Asian kids feel when their parents make Asian food to take to school.
Begun nearly 30 years ago in direct response to the Free Speech movement at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley, Kearny Street Workshop started as a resource for Chinese, Japanese and Filipino American activists. Teaching classes from silk screening, writing to photography and printing making, KSW worked with the elderly and youth and gathered for political events and focused on bringing together the Pan Asian community together.
This year, a lot more artists from other communities came out to see this work, observes APAtures Coordinator Andrew Amorao with pride. Its really great to see them interacting with artists from APAture, coming in to support each other, exchanging names and phone numbers.
An Asian American Studies graduate of San Francisco State University with a keen interest in theater and writing, Amorao previously worked as the Coordinator for the Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavors. I think its a political statement. Even though APAture does show we may be one community, but theres so many communities in that. This breaks stereotypes that not only do we go to these dotcom jobs, we are also artists.
We connect artists and community members with each other, says Light. That means we make artists community members and community members artist. Anyone can be an artist. Theres no big fixed dividing line.
For more information on APAture 2002, or to get involved with KSW-Next group, contact Andrew Amorao or Claire Light at (415) 503-0520 or e-mail email@example.com.
Editors note: Due the magnitude of the event, AsianWeeks coverage is partial at best. Whats true is that there is nothing that comes close to APAture as a community gathering for young APIA artists and artists-to-be. As one supporter puts it, It was a profoundly kick-ass time for all. Congratulations to all those who have worked hard and played hard this year. A special thanks to David Huang (www.poeticdream.com) for providing the tight images for this article.