One of the first works on display in “Lore Re-Imagined: Shadows of Our Ancestors,” now on display at Wing Luke, is Alex Anderson’s “Anxious Watermelon,” which sits atop a pink pedestal. The sculpture has facial features including bright red lips that are frowning. It’s also a daruma figure, a Japanese spiritual intention-setting device. With a daruma, you fill in one eye when you set the goal and you fill in the other eye when the goal is realized.
Through ceramics, textile and an installation, “Lore Re-Imagined” exposes visitors to the distinct voices of Anderson, Megumi Shauna Arai and Satpreet Kahlon.
The symbolism Anderson chose for the work reflects what he referred to as his hybridity; the ceramicist is Japanese and Black.
“I chose to incorporate those things as symbols of what I perceive to be the larger perception of me as both a person of both identities in the world, and so you have the stereotypes,” said Anderson. “The daruma figure also takes on a similar face — the Blackface caricatures that we’re familiar with in America — so using the two I wanted to conform to my own identity and the perceptions of it.”
His work also incorporates Chinese ink painting.
Arai’s “Unnamed Lake” is a textile work hanging on the wall. Arai invited pairs of people to come to the museum for conversation and to work on the tapestry together using the sashiko stitching technique, a form of embroidery originating during the Edo period by rural people of northern Japan. It involves layering fabric over worn areas, ultimately extending the life of garments. Arai taught the 42 participants the technique. Unlike most pieces of art in a museum, visitors are encouraged to touch it. Through an audio component, visitors can listen to some of those conversations between the people who worked on it.
“Unnamed Lake” began with questions about interconnectedness and what types of conversations are borne out of strangers working on a project together.
“What inspired the piece was the tangible lack of person-to-person connecting that I feel happens nowadays. It shrinks by the year, it feels. I feel it in my own life. I feel it when I talk to other people. I see it,” said Arai. “It’s really easy to be disconnected.”
Kahlon’s installation “in/ /between” is a compilation of found materials and audio. In her artist statement, she explains that “this work is about dichotomies and separation, about what it means to be in many but of no place, about history and legacy — but most of all, this work is about yearning, about pasts that have lost themselves to time, to swift colonial escape, to the sudden and complete silence that only comes from sudden generational death.” Kahlon succeeds in her intention to create a living, breathing installation. Visitors can listen to a clip of ambient noises from a village road in Gurdaspur. She recorded the sound from an empty room of the home her paternal grandparents built after fleeing what is now Pakistan.
Guest curator Chieko Phillips is typically drawn to artists who have a heritage element in their work and use what she calls a “preservation practice.” She chose Anderson, Arai and Kahlon because they’ve intentionally studied cultural traditions and incorporate it into their work. She’s pleased with the way the show came together.
“In addition to appreciating the art for its contemporary aesthetic, I would hope visitors would come away understanding the connection to the past,” said Phillips. “And how those traditions are being preserved through the messages that these artists are telling through their practice.”
Anderson was introduced to ceramics in high school and has been transfixed ever since, “It’s infinite, it’s wonderful, it’s ever-intriguing and I knew that I didn’t really like doing anything else.” He has an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles. He’s a former resident artist at the China Academy of Art and also studied at the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute.
He grew up in Seattle and credits his mother with preparing him on how to navigate a society consumed with labeling and typecasting those who aren’t White. His work addresses identity and he’s sharing what his life is like — his perspective — through clay.
“This is how I see the world. This may be how you see the world,” said Anderson. “Either way it’s an expression of and a distillation of my own experiences, psychology and emotion, using myself as an access point for a larger contemporary consciousness.”
Arai is the daughter of a Japanese father and a Jewish mother. She grew up splitting her time between Tokyo and Seattle, which gave her an immersive experience of two different cultures. The multidisciplinary artist is self-taught and works across a variety of mediums.
Kahlon is a multidisciplinary artist who is part of the Punjab diaspora. She grew up in the Midwest and today is based in Seattle and Providence, Rhode Island. Her work has been included in a number of art exhibitions in the Seattle area, she’s a curator and she founded the online art space, Deep Space Gallery. Kahlon’s work often explores intersectional experiences and examines structural inequality.
Anderson, Arai and Kahlon all excel at showcasing various cultural traditions in a compelling way. Because there’s much to learn from “Lore Re-Imagined,” it goes beyond marveling at aesthetics.
“All three artists have a different sort of background. Or a different mix and so it references all different places in the world and all different types of experiences,” said Arai. “I think that those are really important narratives to learn about or to see represented because a lot of people have some sort of story like that.”
WHAT: “Lore Re-Imagined: Shadows of Our Ancestors”
WHEN: Runs until April 14, 2019
WHERE: Wing Luke Museum of Asian Pacific American Experience, 719 South King St.
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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