Archives for posts with tag: Asian-American art

wp_20160905_002Above: a chalk portrait of Sandra Bland

Tonight I have my fifth solo show, this time at Vermillion, a gallery voted #1 in Seattle in a recent Seattle Weekly poll. I wanted to honor the police murder victims of Black Lives Matter, so I decided to return to figurative portraiture, a departure from the largely abstract work of the past decade.

The name of the show is “Rebirth.” To counterbalance the hatred and racial violence in today’s world, I decided to create a meditative, healing space to honor the Black victims of police murders. Using classroom chalk, I drew portraits of 14 of them from a composite of photos sourced online. They are: Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Meagan Hockaday, Alton Sterling, Korryn Gaines, Philando Castile, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Oscar Grant, Nizah Morris, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and Yvette Smith. I also included Trayvon Martin because his murder created Black Lives Matter. In the back of the gallery, I posted these individuals’ stories, along with information on Black liberation organizations, which included Black Lives MatterEnding the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) Seattle, and Black Community Impact Alliance, as a call to action.

Drawing someone in chalk is a delicate and tender process. You observe every minute contour of their face. You understand that this person was vital, multifaceted, funny—so much more than a name in the news. This person left behind a void that is still felt among their loved ones and their communities. You realize, in drawing them, that you deeply care. And it becomes evident that remembrance, particularly in a portrait, is a kind of rebirth.

What brought me to tears was working on the eyes of 7-year-old Aiyana, the youngest police victim in the group. I thought, “We failed you.” She and the countless people gunned down by police officers should be here today. We need to do better. We need to address police accountability, open-carry laws, overpolicing in Black communities, and all the racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia attendant in American society.

An important element in many Black religious communities, water is collected in a bowl at the end of the gallery as a symbol of purification and rebirth. In acting as an inherent threat to the chalk drawings, it carries a reminder of the fragility of life and memory.

I want to thank Davida Ingram, Blu the Baqi, Sooja Kelsey, Eva Abrams, Inye Wokoma, and Erwin Thomas for all their insights and guidance on this project.

Vermillion is donating 10% of its profits to Black Lives Matter; I’m donating all my profits to Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) Seattle.

Show info:
Rebirth, a show honoring Black Lives Matter
Vermillion
1508 11th Ave, Seattle, WA
Opens Sept. 8, 6 to 9PM
Closes Oct. 8

 

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YL_Stranger AP mag 2

My piece, Slippage, in The Stranger‘s Art & Performance Spring 2016 magazine (above, right)

Some days you think you’re going to go wrangle with the electricity company over a billing issue, and then something entirely unexpected and magical happens. In my case, I received a text notifying me that my art was in the latest issue of The Stranger, a popular weekly paper in Seattle. I thought, “Well, fuck the double charge on that bill—they can triple-charge me, for all I care. Right now I’m off to get a paper!”

Then I sprinted down to the coffeehouse in the lobby of my office building, grabbed a paper, and retreated to a quiet place to look through it. The artwork in question was in the periodical’s quarterly Art & Performance magazine. The guide provides a comprehensive list of all arts events going on that season; the Visual Arts section alone contained more than 200 exhibitions and shows.

Right there, on page 23, was my piece, Slippage. I felt almost numb with disbelief. There were only five image slots available in that section; three of them promoted museum shows, including that of international art star Kehinde Wiley, and another showed the work of local legend Norman Lundin. Then there’s this unknown artist, Yoona Lee. The one squarely outside the Seattle arts community, the one who toiled in relative obscurity for 16 long years to get the show of her dreams.

That was my painting right there, and the caption made me gasp. “Why you should see it: Because [Yoona] can transform everyday materials into smart meditations on racial politics.” They understood me. They got to the heart of what I was doing.

Slippage itself was created by cutting a slit in the cellophane covering a store-bought stretched canvas and pouring Sumi ink into it. The piece is about the infiltration of the Other’s, or minority’s, perspective into a previously white and sacrosanct canon—a phenomenon as unstoppable as ink across a blank canvas. I last showed it at the 2015 Arts & Social Change Showcase.

My upcoming show at Ghost Gallery will include this work and others. Titled Run Race Ragged: Three Takes on Racial Politics in America, the show will feature a wide breadth of work: big, visceral abstract paintings, smaller conceptual mixed-media collage, and at least one figurative drawing. It will open May 12, the night of Seattle’s Capitol Hill Art Walk. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll drop by. Details below.

Run Race Ragged: Three Takes on Racial Politics in America
Ghost Gallery
Opening May 12, 5 to 9PM
On view through June 6
504 E. Denny Way
(corner of E. Denny Way and Summit/Olive, entryway to right of Hillcrest Market)

My website: http://www.rhymeswithrace.com/

I recently found a sketchbook I kept in sixth grade and instantly got depressed. It occurred to me that the greatest height of my artistic practice happened when I was eleven years old. I drew all the time, was respected by my peers and family for my work (even though I was relentlessly bullied in school), and was constantly pushing myself in new directions and new mediums.

At the time I was obsessed with horses. I drew entire herds of horses in pencil, pen, magic marker (pictured below), and any other art material I could find.

kid_horses

Nowadays I’ve moved on to other subject matter, but have found some surprising similarities between my art as a sixth grader and my work now.

For example, I had a penchant, even back then, for black and white—and drama. Maybe I was subjected to too many murder-mystery TV programs, thanks to my mom and two older sisters. Here’s a drawing of a “whodunit,” with a corpse splayed out, grim bystanders, and a grieving widow. (I was a macabre child.)

kid_whodunit

But compare the drawing to one that I did a decade and a half later, as a response to the War on Terror.

Atrocities V

Atrocities V, charcoal, 2001

Then there was my weird infatuation with fruit punch. There’s something about the color and flavor that I find so enticing—especially in its most synthetic forms. Here’s my version, using Pentel markers, at age 11.

kid_punch

And below is an allegorical still life I did about 27 years later, called Transelementation. This piece explored the uneasy dynamic between fine art and advertising and features a bottle of Hawaiian Punch. Disquietingly enough, the punch was the exact same color as the ultra-poisonous acrylic paint I was using (quinacridone red, for you paint geeks out there).

61-transelementation-2011

I tend toward abstraction as an artist, but will draw a still life just to maintain my rendering skills. Below, as a sixth grader, I was exploring how realistic I could make a crayon drawing look.

kid_canteloupe

And below I’m doing the same thing, with colored pencil—and with alcohol (which enhances everything)! This is part of a love note to Seattle that I made for the Sketchbook Project in 2010.

wine and drawing

The drawing tool I’ve used most often, simply because it’s easy to transport, is a pen. Below are yet more horses I drew at 11, this time using a pen and ancient bottle of ink I’d found rolling around in a drawer at home.

kid_ink horses

And here is a drawing I did nearly 30 years later, protesting the gentrification that is destroying my beloved neighborhood of Capitol Hill, Seattle.

Love letter to E Olive Way

And here I am as a 13-year-old, at my first “group show,” after a summer art class. I have seven pieces behind me, including a few figure drawings, two horses to my lower left, and a black-and-white drawing to the left of my head that resembles my work now.

kid_Corcoran show

And here’s my current work (with me in front of it), photo courtesy of Jeffrey Hirsch. This is from my show at Zeitgeist in downtown Seattle a few months ago.

JH pic of me

As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even after almost three decades (ack)!

You can see more recent artwork of mine at: http://rhymeswithrace.com/

I know you’re tired of it. Race. Race in America. It’s a topic ripe enough to burst, and it dominates the headlines: racial terrorism, police brutality, Obama using the “N” word. I’m sick of it too, but it’s what people of color, like me, live and breathe every day. We talk, cry, and yell it; it’s the key in which we sing.

Lately, I have been developing a body of work that deals with the fraught and beleaguered issue of race in America. These paintings are a continuation of my recent show at Seattle’s Zeitgeist Coffee, Disconnects: The Linguistics of Race. After Ferguson, I began this series as a way of processing the rage and grief that I felt.

Using a large housepaint brush, I flung acrylic paint on more than 30 feet of raw canvas. Working in such a visceral, often violent way–and on such a large scale–was cathartic for me. Although the Action Painters of the ’50s used the same methods, they produced work that was largely apolitical (and most were Caucasian men). My work is firmly rooted in the discourse of racial disparity.

The first piece in the series is Denatured, a tribute to Michael Brown.

Denatured
Denatured, nailed to the wall at Zeitgeist Coffee, March 2015

Most of the other pieces use the same splatter method to represent the squandered lives that racism takes by force. The random patterns of the paint form tumultuous narratives of struggle, evoking bodies rent apart through physical or psychological violence, the disemboweling of entire communities, and the quest for liberation.

Race 2_FergusonRace 1

Race 3

The following pieces talk about structural racism, the bias written into institutions and systems in America. From the Confederate flag flown over Southern government buildings to racial stratification in housing, vestiges of white supremacist ideology are still present in our culture.

Race 5
If this reminds you of a penitentiary, then you’re on the right track.

Race 4

What does experiencing racism feel like? I can say from firsthand experience that you feel eviscerated, stripped of agency, and blinded to everything except the incident itself. Your perspective distorted and self-worth negated, you feel like sawdust or, worse yet, nothing at all.

But as an Asian-American, I have it easy compared to the struggles of the black community. According to writer Julia Craven, “To be black, specifically in America, is to be in a constant state of fear. There is no refuge. There is no escape. There is no sanctuary.”

Even so, you still get some wildly posturing, colonialist asshat like Rachel Dolezal, who commodifies Otherness (in the words of bell hooks) in the ultimate appropriative act of white privilege. As if race can be simply performed and adopted. As if we all had the luxury of that choice.

That’s why we have to frankly and openly address race in America–and run it ragged: understand its ins and outs, all its vagaries and gray areas. And then do something about it. From rewriting the policies and laws to subverting the dominant media narrative and its outdated tropes (see the Wall Street Journal coverage of Charleston for an example) to supporting communities of color.

This all takes thinking critically, listening carefully, and acting compassionately. Not turning the other way or pretending it’s someone else’s job. It’s our job because, goddamn it, it’s our world.

WP_20150307_010
Denatured (2015) and Code Switching (2012) 

My show, Disconnects: The Linguistics of Race, which opened at Zeitgeist Coffee two weeks ago, features abstract paintings from the past decade. Most of them took months, if not years, to complete. The one exception is Denatured (above, left), which was done in one intense sitting.

Zeitgeist 1
Pieces ranging from 2005 through 2010

The space
The two walls of the show space, seen together

Back in the mid-2000s, I began a series of monochrome paintings, called Epistemes, that flirted with epistemology, or the study of knowledge and its acquisition. The paintings’ stark black structures symbolized the mental constructs and girders that we hang our perceptions on. Here are some pieces, now being shown at Zeitgeist, from that body of work.

9-elegy
Interdiction, acrylic on 30″x40″canvas, 2005

The first of the Epistemes series, this painting arose out of the sound of constant construction outside our apartment for several years. (It’s no surprise that the structures resemble cranes and scaffolding.) I knew the painting was finished when it became a quiet, still sanctuary that I wanted to ensconce myself in. The piece has a bleak, elegiac quality that I find somehow comforting.

8-manchester
Superstructure, acrylic on 3’x4′ canvas, 2009

This piece was more of a struggle than the others and took about three years to finish. Here it is in an earlier stage:

manchester
(Gack! Not working.)

At that point, I realized that it needed more “oomph,” so I decreased the number of structures and fortified the ones that were left. I wanted an architectural majesty that would evoke the heroism of Franz Kline—who is an obvious influence on my work.

5-convergence
Convergence, acrylic on 3’x4′ canvas, 2010

This was another painting that took at least two years to finish. Like the others in the series, it features the conflicted interplay of black and white paint. If there’s one painting in the show that talks about the fractured language around race in America, it’s this one, with its ruptures and tenuous connections.

52-thin-years
The Thin Years, acrylic on 3’x4′ canvas, 2008

This painting is the only one whose name is less conceptual and more autobiographical. “The Thin Years” refers to the fact that, in beginning this piece, I realized the economy was tanking and my job was in jeopardy; therefore, I needed to save money by thinning my paint. The result yielded an open, airy painting with luminous spaces. The only problem: I was using a brand of cheap paint, and it felt like painting with seagull shit. The medium was oily and not even truly black. But still, it’s one of my favorite paintings.

Code Changing with patron
Code Switching (with visitor), acrylic on 30″x40″ canvas, 2012
Photo by Maria Martinez

This piece took at least two years to finish and was the first in the series to incorporate mixed media—more specifically, foil, paper towels, and a random swatch of cloth from my husband’s jeans. Code-switching is a linguistic term that refers to alternating between languages, or language styles, in a single conversation. As such, it’s a means of negotiating racial and cultural identities. Working in mixed media is its own form of switching between visual languages.

Denatured
Denatured, acrylic on 3’x5′ loose canvas, 2015

And then there is Denatured, which was a breakthrough that happened in January. Like in the Epistemes series, disconnects occur in the dialogue between black and white, except that the architectural structures of the earlier work become subsumed in emotion. This violent, uncontainable spillage echoes the volatility of racial discourse in America.

There were many ways to hang this piece, but I decided to simply nail it to the wall, which has an immediate, visceral effect. You could go further and read into Michael Brown (whose denatured body lay in the street for four hours) attaining a Messianic quality—I wouldn’t argue with that.

yoona-painting-02
A black-and-white closeup by Tim Prioste

In response to the cultural zeitgeist and my own identity as an Asian-American female, I feel compelled to continue in this direction. I need to use the language of abstraction to somehow express the messiness of race relations in the United States. So my goal for this year is to gain access to a large enough space to produce in and thereby work toward my next show.

Show information:

Disconnects: The Linguistics of Race | abstract paintings by Yoona Lee

Zeitgeist Coffee
171 S. Jackson St., Seattle, WA 98104
Mon – Fri: 6am – 7pm | Sat: 7am – 7pm | Sun: 8am – 6pm

Now through April 1.

1-philomel
(This drawing, published in Philomel Magazine in 1997, wasn’t included–though it could have been, with its themes of gay/interracial relationships and AIDS.)

Last Tuesday, January 27, I presented some of my visual art at the juried Arts & Social Change Showcase, a booking conference that is part of the Arts & Social Change Symposium, in Bellevue, Washington. I was one of nine featured visual artists, who ranged in style and subject matter. In addition, there were 14 live performances, ranging from Guinean dance to Taiko drumming, held in the same room—which kept things lively (and loud). The event was attended by arts professionals, bookers and funders, including members of 4Culture, Washington State Arts Commission and other organizations.

I was surprised to find that much of the featured visual art was created by “diverse” artists but did not necessarily have a clear social message. My pieces were some of the more pointed there—no surprise when you include a drawing of a petroleum conglomerate’s CEO ejaculating oil. Then again, the event was organized around the idea of social change, not social justice. (Further clarification of this kind of terminology can be found here.) So I understand that showcasing artists of different ethnic backgrounds helps inform the public and shift cultural perceptions, which can contribute to social change.

I showed the following pieces at the conference.

2_Hostage

Atrocities V, 2001
Compressed charcoal on newsprint
18 x 24 in

The drawing above is part of a series on the ravages of war (which can be found here on my website). This and the drawing below, of BP CEO Tony Hayward, were published in The Slog, the blog of Seattle’s weekly paper The Stranger. You can see Jen Graves’ original post here.

3_BP Wet Dream
BP Wet Dream
, 2010
Compressed charcoal on newsprint
18 x 24 in

The drawing that follows was published as the cover illustration of the Seattle Journal for Social Justice, an interdisciplinary journal that comes out of the Seattle University School of Law. It was a tribute to Robert Frank, whose unflinching outsider’s eye exposed the hypocrisies and existentialism of American life in the twentieth century.

 1_SJSJ cover

The United States of Inequality, 2010
Cover illustration for Seattle Journal for Social Justice, Fall/Winter 2010
Mixed media on paper
8.5 x 11 in

The next two drawings come from a conceptual collage series I created around racial politics and the minority experience. (You can find more here on my website.)

4_Infiltration

Slippage, 2012
Ink on canvas
10 x 8 in

During production, I poured Sumi ink through a slit in the protective plastic wrapping of a blank canvas to suggest the infiltration of the postcolonial “Other’s” perspective into a previously white canon.

5_Internment

Camp, 2012
Mixed media on bristol
14 x 17 in

Composed of shreds of black paper left on Scotch tape loops, Camp represents containment and internment, compromised identity, and the tenacity of survivors.

Overall, the work I showed at the Arts & Social Change Showcase elicited a positive response from viewers. It helped that the attendees and presenters were already thinking of how an aesthetic medium can be used to produce transformative social change. There are myriad ways to do it, and it will take me a lifetime to figure out the best, most generous way possible. But for now, I am taking one step at a time to get my work out there—both visual art and writings—to help effect some of these changes.

Over the holidays, I laid a large piece of raw canvas on the floor of a friend’s art studio and slashed and hacked away at it with a housepainter’s brush. Sure, it was action painting—nothing nobody wasn’t doing in 1951 (wait, does that triple-negative still make a positive?). However, old methods can convey new messages, including one that represents the sweaty, immediate present.

This was the result:

Denature

Every single inch of the 5-foot-long canvas is affected; even the seemingly blank areas are activated by small splatters. In this way, this painting acts as a metaphor for race; that is, there is nobody in America that is not affected at this cultural moment by the discourse of race and difference. Ferguson was the watershed, the explosive catalyst. Eric Garner, like a wide receiver, carried the message farther.

I titled the piece Denature because it talks about how Michael Brown, and many others before and after, was stripped of his dignity–and all his essential qualities–as he lay bleeding in the street. It talks about the denaturing and pervasive effect of systemic racism.

Denature closeup
Hiccups and droolings of paint: Denature, 2014 (closeup)

Working spontaneously on a large scale was extremely cathartic for me; a lot of grief and rage bubbled out. However, as an artist, I was careful to follow up with methodical refinement. Right now this piece and another larger painting, titled 12:01 to Eternity (referencing the time Michael Brown was shot), are in an incubation period. I’ll leave them alone for a month or so before revisiting them for additional revisions. Because, as with emotion itself, time provides some perspective. But in the end, this perspective may only open up more questions than answers, not unlike race in America.

12PM to Eternity closeup
12:01 to Eternity, 2015 (closeup)

Convergence
For contrast, a painting from 2008, Convergence 

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!).

1 displacing rage

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