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It’s been a while. The ghastly political climate in America has made me temporarily give up on any creative activity (including this blog!). Instead, I’ve been using all my energy on activism, in the streets, in the community, and at my job, where I cofounded an inclusion initiative.

However, I did manage to write a review for Alison MacLeod’s All the Beloved Ghosts for the Los Angeles Review of Books earlier this year. You can read it here.

And I have a commissioned painting, featured in a global ad campaign for Lumicor, that appeared in Interior Design. Its orientation has changed, and it’s cropped, but you can still get a sense of the piece.

Interior Design spread

Well, that’s one minimal post, I’m afraid, but my creativity is virtually nonexistent (which is ironic, since it follows my most artistically successful year yet). Hopefully I’ll recover from the horrifying national crisis the Trump administration has put us in, and become more productive again soon!

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Yeah, we’re not talking about the election. Instead, I’m just doubling down on my activism.

Like doing a lot of this.
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Black Lives Matter Not Black Friday protest, downtown Seattle, Nov. 25, 2016 (photo by me)

But also making art about racial politics and helping center people of color. For this reason, I’m happy to be included in this group show in Tacoma, Washington:

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Organized by the CultureShock Collective, High Blood features all artists of color (I’m just waiting for a Trump supporter to start bawling about anti-white discrimination—they can cry me a motherfucking river).

Already there have been favorable reviews in Tacoma’s News Tribune and the International Examiner, and I’m honored to have my work mentioned in both. The show is pioneering and will hopefully kick off a more serious discussion about inclusivity in the Northwest art scene.

In addition, I have a multimedia piece (which had been at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience) in this group show at North Seattle College Art Gallery, which opens tomorrow.

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If you find yourself north or south of Seattle, I encourage you to check out either show!

On November 27, the Black Lives Matter, Not Black Friday protest shook up the retail core of Seattle. I stayed for as long as I could and documented it.

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1 PM: Signs in Century Square, the de facto heart of the retail district.

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Protesters strain to hear the speaker’s bullhorns over the blare of Christmas carols, Century Square.

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Holiday shoppers watch the protest from the safety of Westlake Center, a popular downtown mall.

Blocking intersection_mic checkSeveral hundred demonstrators occupied intersections while POC (people of color) speakers used an Occupy-style “human microphone” to spread their message.

Blocking intersectionDisrupting traffic in Seattle: some motorists were frustrated, while others were empathetic and waited patiently.

WP_20151127_096Occupying a popular intersection beside corporate retailer Nordstrom–fuck the holiday season, start a revolution!

Signs outside Westlake Ctr
3 PM: First attempt to get into Westlake Center, at the north entrance …

Altercation_Westlake Ctr… which doesn’t end well (cops 1, POC 0)–the first arrest of four arrests made that day.

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The crowd of protesters was diverse, with many white allies.

Cops and WTFAn attempt by protesters to enter Pacific Place, an upscale shopping center, brings cops–and a few incongruous self-designated “superheroes” (costumed vigilantes).

Forever 21 protestProtesters occupied all four floors of Forever 21, a corporate retailer guilty of unethical practices.

The organizers of protest4:15 PM: A quick conversation, as police block off streets, before heading to Westlake Center for the tree lighting–and the latter half of the protest.

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The Slog, the daily blog run by The Stranger (one of Seattle’s weekly papers), covered the protest and captured, among many other people, me (in dark glasses, foreground). I lost most of my voice shouting and leading chants.

I need to figure out how to upload some video footage here. It features protesters infiltrating Macy’s, even as a security guard tried to shut its doors, and occupying Forever 21. At the latter store, I was right behind one of the march’s organizers when she simply and miraculously opened one of its doors and said, “Come on in.” I patted her on the shoulder and said it was a good idea, and then we all swept in–an unstoppable tide of people that took about 15 minutes to all get through the door. We rode the escalators to the top of the store, shouting chants like “Black lives matter, not this shit.” Shoppers were flummoxed or pretended to ignore us while scurrying to the dressing rooms, but a few pumped their fists in solidarity.

The Black Lives Matter march went on to effectively disrupt the tree lighting ceremony and finally infiltrate the two downtown malls. Some great photos and coverage can be found here. Four arrests were made, but there were no blast balls, tear gas, or major violence like I’d experienced during the WTO. And unlike the Martin Luther King Day Black Lives Matter march earlier this year, it didn’t end in the cops going crazy with the pepper spray. So in that respect, the protest was a relative success. However, many white shoppers became irate, completely overlooking the point of the protest: black lives matter more than consumerism.

Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Tanisha Anderson. LaQuan McDonald. The countless unnamed by the media.

So many. Too many. Black lives matter. Say it with me–not all lives matter”that’s also true but missing the goddamn point here.

Black lives. Their black lives. Our black lives everywhere. All of them. Protected and respected. That may sound like a liberational fantasy, but that’s what protests like these are working toward.

Affecting corporate retailersAmerica’s moneylike Chicago’s protesters did on North Michigan Avenue, is the best way of getting attention and pointing to where the real value lies. Not in 40% off the Kindle Unlimited, but in the black lives lost and those that need to be fiercely and lovingly cherished and preserved.

bojagi art show

I’m very proud to have a multimedia piece in an upcoming show at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle–an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute. The show is called Bojagi: Unwrapping Korean American Identities, and it opens November 14 and runs until June 2015.

As a Korean-American artist, I constantly deal with hybridized identity in my work, which can be found at www.rhymeswithrace.com. The piece that will be displayed at the museum is called Displacing Rage: The Education of a Cultural Hybrid, and can be found on my site at http://www.rhymeswithrace.com/performance.html.

Here is a still from the presentation, where I confront a racist classmate in grade school–one of a vast number of racial microaggressions (all part of the minority experience!).

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If you’re in Seattle, swing by the Wing Luke; it’s a very worthwhile place.

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience
719 S King St, Seattle, WA 98104
(between 7th and 8th Avenues)
Phone: (206) 623-5124
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 10am–5pm
Monday closed

Yesterday, at Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, I ended up face to muzzle with a gigantic horse constructed out of sticks. It was one of many Deborah Butterfield horse sculptures showing this month at her 30th anniversary show.

The three horses in the front room have the stature of Clydesdales. Massive and silent, they have the gentle but powerful presence that real horses have. These sculptures are nothing but tangled networks of branches or scrap metal, yet they have an ineffably equine essence about them. Butterfield carefully assembles the salvaged material to evoke sinew, bone, and fat. Sometimes the ears are left out entirely, but the head seems to have its own expression and mood.

I sat down in a room full of smaller horses and sketched “Koai’a,” a piece constructed out of sun-bleached koa wood. Here is a photograph of the piece.

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And here is the drawing.

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A strange thing happened, once it was recorded in ink. The essence of horse was gone; the sculpture collapsed into an aggregate of artfully placed branches on paper. A stick figure. It made me realize that the sense of the animal was implicit in, and dependent on, the three-dimensional space the sculpture occupies. Even the gaps in the structure gave it a sense of rounded completeness. Each Butterfield horse is a gestural study, where suggestion trumps literal documentation.

When welded rebar or dead branches with pinecones still attached can imply a sense of a living, breathing animal, you know that’s a great sculpture. Deborah Butterfield is a master at her craft, and she obviously speaks native horse.

Show ends November 16. Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Avenue South, Seattle, WA

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I’ve been truant in writing, having been enveloped in a maelstrom of activity.

Today, for the first time in a long time, I sit at the window and listen to the polyrhythms of the rain, which imitate bass, toms, and snare. The cymbal hiss of a passing car.

This random percussion barely conceals a widening silence. 

The stillness inside a storm. 

I listen with concentration and patience. And I look through the window panes spangled with silver droplets.

First at the rain itself and then, after a great while, at the brightening skies beyond.

Unfinished business

Unite and fight, rinse and repeat.

Best words of the 2013 March on Washington, from John Lewis:

You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down.

You got to stand up. Speak up. Speak out, and get in the way.

Make some noise!

 

 

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This past weekend I obsessively created sketch after sketch of a gouged-out bagel (note the insides have been scraped out), because it looked so demolished yet ruggedly beautiful. This exercise was an attempt at sublimating the horror and anguish I felt about the Fukushima radiation leakage. (If you’re not informed about this, then blame the media brown-out.)

In examining the bagel, I realized it looked strangely anatomical and geographical. It had its own topology, with calderas, ridges, and valleys. It looked like a ravaged landscape, like the world that we’ve poisoned. 

What rhymes with race? Debased. Whether that pertains to the Earth we’ve defiled or ourselves as corrupting agents, it is we (or rather, our corporations and governments) who are to blame for the Fukushima mess. We can do a whole lot better than this, and we sure as hell better–and fast. 

The air is damp and bruised, like a mishandled fruit. A fan hums in the background. The house is empty except for you. He is gone. Confused, unprepared, forced into leaving.

You had tried to explain to him that race is central to your own identity as a minority. Race allows you your best days and guarantees your worst days. It gives you your strength and also depletes you of it.

He, a white male—your dearest husband, told you talking that way only made the differences between you and him even more prominent. In a relationship, he didn’t want that; neither did you.

What he was saying made sense, to a degree. But you were a fighter and activist; he was not an activist and didn’t like fights. He saw the world as flawed but improving. You saw the world as improving but still flawed. He described America as postracial. You said not to use words like that in the house.

He was hungry and tired. You were tired of arguing and hungry in a different way. You and he had pits in your stomachs. The more you both talked, the more the differences arose, insurmountable. The air grew heavy with fatigue and hurt. At last he left. You didn’t want him to but you didn’t stop him. He didn’t want to but felt he had no choice.

The world outside arose, fraught with conflicts, between you. You had not allowed it to enter your relationship in the first few years, but since each of you carried it within, it was there, bigger with every passing year. This world born between you, dividing you, was the same one that had swaddled, suckled, and eventually poisoned you.

You felt sick but knew that to talk meant to take risks, in a marriage, outside of one, out in the real world. But you never knew how loud and empty misunderstanding sounded—and how conclusive a departure could feel—until today.

You and he were two halves, two colors, two sides to an argument. These two halves could not complete each other. Instead, they made a hole. But that was not argument enough.

You put on your shoes to go find him. He was approaching the door as you stepped outside.

At last week’s “Justice for Trayvon, Justice for All” protest in Seattle, many wore hoodies, but the cousin of Trayvon Martin didn’t. Cedric President-Turner wore a necktie, white suit jacket, and a trim haircut. He calmly faced the federal courthouse, the people with signs, and asked simple questions. How the trial could end this way. How racism could exist. He wanted reflection, but the crowd erupted into paroxysms of rage.

His questions–in fact, all of the protests that occurred in American cities on July 20–became a valve. They released a surge of anger at the injustice of the ruling. This surge has overwhelmed the country, sizzled along the radio circuits, infiltrated our bedrooms and divided households.

To protest the Trayvon Martin ruling is not to simply use a narrow, racialized lens to view the incident. It is about acknowledging the flaws in our justice system and reigniting the civil rights movement. Knowing we do not have a postracial, colorblind society is not enough; we must fight to improve it and commit today.