APAture puts spotlight on Asian Pacific American artists
SAN FRANCISCO – A showcase of over 60 emerging San Francisco Bay Area-based Asian Pacific American (APA) artists of various mediums runs through the entire month of October.
“APAture 2017: Unravel,” presented by Kearny Street Workshop (KSW), is on its 16th season, offering six art showcases in over four weekends around San Francisco’s SOMA Pilipinas: Filipino Cultural Heritage District.
Founded in 1972, KSW is dedicated to producing, presenting and promoting art that empowers diverse Asian Pacific American communities. Now on it’s 45th year, it has offered multidisciplinary arts presentations and workshops to Bay Area community members, making it the oldest Asian Pacific American multi-disciplinary arts organization in the country.
Amplifying the voices of APA artists within the frame of arts conversations on a local and global level is the goal of APAture. A play on the word aperture, an opening to see through, as with a lens that magnifies the interstices of being an Asian Pacific American, APAture has featured a number of prominent artists in the early stages of their careers.
The multidisciplinary arts festival kicked off an opening night with a Visual Arts Showcase on September 30 at Arc Gallery & Studios at 1246 Folsom Street with Rea Lynn de Guzman as this year’s featured artist.
Other showcases in APAture 2017 are the Literary Arts Showcase featuring Vanessa Hua on October 5 at the Arc Gallery & Studios; Music Showcase featuring Kohinoorgasm on October 7 at f8, 1192 Folsom Street; Film Showcase featuring Cyrus Tabar on October 12 at Z Space, 470 Florida Street; Performing Arts Showcase featuring Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on October 21 at Asian Art Museum.
A closing reception with a costume party and special guest DreMagix is happening on October 28 at Arc Gallery and Studios.
This year, KSW honored past featured artists with the first ever APAture Focus Awards on opening night. The five honorees were comedian Ali Wong, comedian Hasan Minhaj, comedian and performance artist Kristina Wong, visual artist Michael Arcega and the late poet Justin Chin.
The awardees “were selected based on their unique contributions to amplifying the APA community’s collective voice within American culture and setting an example for what success looks like, especially for APA artists.”
Arcega said that KSW is a great incubator space that has helped young emerging artists like him when he began his career years ago.
“I’ve benefited from that. It’s also tied to this broader community of practitioners that’s all throughout the Bay Area. Those connections just expand, and it becomes this larger diasporic thing,” Arcega said.
KSW and APAture are safe spaces for APA artists that Arcega said has helped with his foundation as an artist. “This is a space where you can fly your flag, whatever it is.”
Arcega, who emotionally accepted the award later in the evening, reflected, “I’m humbled that they think that I deserve this. I’m honored that they even considered me for anything.”
JD Beltran, president of the San Francisco Arts Commission, was elated to be presenting the APAture awards to “people who have built and maintained their careers for this long, to be able to continue to thrive and be successful, and to be models for, influence and inspire younger artists.”
Kim Arteche, a featured artist in 2015, co-curated the Visual Arts and the Performing Arts Showcases.
“It’s a bit difficult to curate with a specific theme because, for one, KSW and APAture focuses on Asian Pacific American artists. A lot of the time the expectation is to make work about your identity. So our curating process also has to consider that some folks might not be exploring parts of their identity, and that is also just as valid in terms of being an arts organization that is centered on Asian Pacific Americans.”
Out of over 150 submissions for this year’s festival, only 65 were chosen. The strength of the work and the writing that goes with it were the main considerations.
“For us, the statement of what your intentions were for the art work are just as important as how beautiful the art work is,” Arteche said.
An interdisciplinary artist who works in painting, print media, and sculpture, Manila born Rea Lynn de Guzman is an alumnus of the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) where she received her MFA and BFA degrees respectively.
As featured artist for this year’s Visual Arts Showcase, de Guzman’s exhibited pieces are part of what she calls the Retaso series inspired by the idea of Maria Clara, the literary figure from the novel Noli Me Tangere by Philippine National Hero, Jose Rizal. The Maria Clara also happens to be a style of dress for women made out of piña fibers and organza that are woven together.
The theme for this year’s festival is “unravel.” As defined it is the undoing, unwinding, as well as the investigation of twisted and woven threads.
“I’m trying to unravel the expectations of what a Filipina woman is,” de Guzman said. “All of these are associated with the Maria Clara image and all the stereotypes that came along with it: being passive, unequal to men; attributes that I wanted to tackle through my work.”
A number of other APA artists were part of the Visual Arts Showcase.
Anoushka Mirchandani shares the sentiment about women’s issues that is reflected in her figurative drawings. A native of Puna, she said, “growing up in India, I had to always look over my shoulder to make sure I was safe.”
The rape of women, according to Mirchandani, is very common in India.
“There’s brutal rape in the news but it’s not even news anymore, it’s just expected, it’s normalized.”
She believes that the reason behind this is the repression of sexuality, citing Bollywood films as an example.
“In Bollywood films, kissing wasn’t allowed until recently, which is kind of crazy because it’s a natural expression of love. And this is coming from the land that had the Kama Sutra…” Mirchandani said. “I think it plays into the mentality of people everywhere. Men feel like women are submissive and can be treated as such, and women don’t know how to react to that mentality because it’s what they’ve grown up with.”
Issues related to identity are a staple in the APA community because of circumstances that bring about feelings of otherness, ungroundedness, and in-betweenness. It is a theme that is repeatedly explored by artists.
“That feeling of in-betweenness translates with being an Asian American,” photographer, Rene Morrison, said. “It’s so confusing to navigate because I could never be fully embraced in a Korean community because I’m half white, born and raised in the U.S. and I’m never considered American because I look Asian.”
Artist Palo Salazar, who was part of APAture 2016, returns this year with a new body of work about Filipino identity and Asian masculinity and how this duality comes together.
“Being more conscious about being born in the Philippines and also being raised and living in the United States. It’s different actually from being from the Philippines and living out there or being American and having no ties to the motherland. For me I’m in both.; so there’s this kind of in-betweenness. When I’m in the Philippines, I don’t feel Filipino, and growing up in San Francisco, I’m thought of somewhat as an outsider because of my brown skin. My paintings explore this bouncing back and forth.”
As with identity, themes concerning culture and tradition were also explored, how these are in some ways retained and in many ways rediscovered in the light of being Asian American.
Rochelle Youk, who incorporated elements of traditional Korean patterns to her gouache painting, explained, “I’m always interested in how tradition comes together with non-tradition. I like to pick apart how traditions become traditions and why they have so much importance or emotional weight. I’m interested in how they come to be, and I like to pull apart their origins,”
Florida-born Sherwin Rio has used the idea of the Barong Tagalog, considered as the national dress for men in the Philippines, as the springboard for his piece.
“This work is a Barong Tagalog that I built out of Manila rope. It’s a piece about the ways in which culture in the diaspora acts like a net that catches certain aspects of homeland culture and then also releases others or lets others pass through,” Rio said.
Rio was also deeply inspired by his father. His piece is a homage to his father and his heritage.
“Growing up, I noticed my father was really good at making anything. He was always using rope to find creative ways to build things. And so this is my homage to him, a way in which I could learn how to be Filipino,” Rio said.
Kacy (Kuo-Chen) Jung, who hails from Taiwan, grapples with the notion of culture and how our perceptions surrounding it influences and are the cause of the many issues that plague our world.
“I try to deal with the complexity of multicultural influence inside of me. People have misunderstanding for other cultures,” resulting in “religious fights and racial war.”
Vanessa Hua, featured artist for the Literary Arts Showcase, read excerpts from her book of short stories “Deceit and Other Possibilities.” Hua, who also is a journalist reporting about the Asian American community, said, “a lot of my stories reflect those inspirations I pick up both as a reporter and as an American born daughter of Chinese immigrants”.
Hua has had a lifelong fascination with questions about identity and immigration as well as the consequences of these circumstances.
“It’s about unraveling what’s on the surface and discovering the circumstance or motivations, the dynamics in a family and culture that lead people to act the way they might. I joke that the theme of my book is model minorities behaving badly. For me it’s about unraveling what leads the characters to make the choices they do.”
Featured artist for the Performing Arts Showcase Zulfikar Ali Bhutto deals with identity and international politics as his alter ego Faluda Islam who is part of a project he likes to call “Queer Muslim Futurism.”
“I like the idea of reimagining a different future. Imagining a future in which the marginalized fight back. The idea of unraveling a new world order,” Bhutto said.
Indonesian author and Illustrator Innosanto Nagara, featured artist for the Books Arts Showcase, writes children’s books for what he calls the 99 percent.
“For people who are interested in making sure that their kids have books that are unapologetic about their values and support for all people’s rights,” Nagara said.
Nagara also deals with perceptions and ignorance in relation to his motherland.
“Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world and the largest Muslim country in the world, but if you ask people in America where Indonesia is, most people don’t have an idea,” Nagara said. “I’m unraveling the concept of what is Asia and where Indonesia fits into all that.”
For some of the artists, KSW and APAture is a space where they were welcomed and validated.
“I’m really proud to be a part of this show because I feel for the first time people were reaching out to me being like ‘you are with us’ and that was really heartwarming for me,” Rene Morrison, photographer, said.
“I used to be in corporate tech for eight years and I was really unhappy. I didn’t feel that I was doing anything meaningful. This year I said I’m gonna focus full time on my art practice, and that’s what I’ve done. I feel validated. I can do this. I can be an artist. I’m so much happier than I was.” Mirchandani said.
The idea for this year’s festival’s theme comes from thinking about “ways of deconstructing and reexamining our experiences here as Asian Americans,” Jason Bayani, KSW artistic director, said.
Years of art making and community engagement has paid off as artists and community members continue to collectively chip off at the source of all these issues with more capacity and resources.
“This time, as artists, we would move beyond desiring representation. Right now what we were more interested in is the interrogation of experience, taking things apart, decolonization… unraveling, you know,” Bayani said. “The idea of visibility is still there, but we can do more than that now.”