Oxy Arts’ newest exhibition, “Voice a Wild Dream: Moments in Asian American Art and Activism, 1968-2022,” highlights works by Asian American artists and activists and spotlights their efforts toward social justice. Kris Kuramitsu is the curator, and it is open Sept. 8 to Nov. 18.
There have always been active and vocal Asian American activists, and Kuramitsu said she saw a need for their efforts to be appreciated. With the rise of anti-Asian violence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, she found it more important than ever to showcase collective artistic projects of Asian American communities. Kauramitsu said she hopes viewers draw connections across space, time and generations, relating to the types of artforms that came out of Asian American cultural activism.
“Art is not only communicating and reflecting a reality but actually making a reality,” Kuramitsu said. “I wanted to identify some moments where there was a fluorescence of activity where people came together around a specific need or a specific idea.”
Both Kuramitsu and Meldia Yesayan, director of Oxy Arts, said that the urgent community need for an exhibition surrounding the experiences of Asian Americans is very apparent and greater than ever.
“It’s a show that has really deep resonance, not only for the Asian American community but for all of us,” Yesayan said. “It’s such a compelling collection of works and historical archival documents and histories that come together in this beautiful story of 50 years of activism and artistic collective voices.”
Kuramitsu is Occidental’s Fall 2022 professor of the practice. Not only is she the curator of this new exhibition, but she is also teaching a course during her residency, “Topics in Art History: Seeing Asian American Art.” Frankie Fleming, Oxy Arts’ manager of education and community engagement, has the privilege of working with curators like Kuramitsu by providing them with a space to display their exhibitions. She also creates community programming surrounding Oxy Arts exhibitions.
“The curatorial residency is really meant to be a space for a curator to have an opportunity to create their own work and deepen their own practice,” Fleming said. “Oxy Arts is really a facilitator and a sounding board and a resource for that.”
Kuramitsu said her exhibition focuses on calling attention to the challenges that many people feel regarding their cultural identities. She said the creators of the artifacts were the first generation of Asian people in America who coined the term “Asian American,” despite Asian people having had a significant presence in America even before the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.
“The show really broadly looks at moments at which art and activism come together in an Asian American kind of cultural life,” Kuramitsu said. “Some of the early magazines and newspapers, like Gidra or Bridge Magazine, [are] really amazing time capsules in terms of capturing really complicated and difficult conversations that people were having about who they are and what they’re all about, like, ‘Why am I Asian American, and what does Asian American mean?’”
Gidra is a newspaper featured in Kuramitsu’s exhibition. It was published by students attending UCLA during the late 1970s and served as an outlet to discuss interests and events surrounding Asian American communities.
Mike Murase, a founding member of Gidra, said he has devoted his life to activism and involvement.
“There’s an enduring interest in looking at Gidra and other expressions of young people’s sentiments,” Murase said. “Many of us thought of ourselves as radicals and revolutionaries.”
According to Kuramitsu, one of the most compelling pieces in the exhibition is a skateboard that the co-editors of Giant Robot, another Asian American magazine, took on a trip to Manzanar, the site of a former Japanese incarceration camp. They went to Manzanar to investigate its history and report on the landscape. Their article featured information about the ideal skateboarding terrain and its relationship with the land. Kuramitsu was drawn to the story of the skateboarder’s journey. She said she sees the power behind the process of the two Asian American editors reclaiming and analyzing traumatic history through reporting and media.
“This really amazing, iconic look at and processing of history is represented in the objects that I find really powerful,” Kuramitsu said.
Kuramitsu said that because LA and New York were the main activity centers of Asian American activism, it helped her narrow her focus to display works from those two cities. Many organizations based out of those cities, like the Chinatown Art Brigade in New York, typically worked out of basements and wherever they could afford due to high rent prices in historically Asian-dominated neighborhoods.
“There was obviously a lot happening in San Francisco and Philadelphia and Chicago, and all these other places. But [there’s] only so much space and only so much energy,” Kuramitsu said. “There are countless other things I could show you from other groups around the country, but it would take a while to spew it all out.”
She said she hopes others take time to listen and learn the stories behind all of the objects in her exhibition and is looking forward to future Oxy Arts programming relating to it.
“Voice a Wild Dream: Moments in Asian American Art and Activism, 1968-2022” will be on display Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Nov. 18. Walkthroughs of the exhibition with Kuramitsu will occur Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. and Oct. 22 at 10 a.m.