By Jimin Kim
“It’s an old calculator and it’s actually pulsating like how our chest breathes,” said Eric Stiller, an intern art gallery tour guide. On Thursday evening at Stony Brook University, the diverse array of artwork at the Wang Center’s spring reception captured the imagination of nearly a hundred audience members. One of the standout pieces was the “Breathing-Series POS” — outmoded gadgets with internal components that made the devices exhibit human-like breathing.
The gallery included a collection of tranquil indigo textiles, an interactive modern art collection and an artistic study of Asian stereotypes in popular comic books.
First, “Seas of Blue” consisted of a variety of indigo-dyed textiles from India, Indonesia, Japan and Korea–a testament to the event’s goal to spotlight the art of many Asian cultures.
Famous Indonesian artist, Merdi Sihombing, spoke highly of his home country’s personal relationship with the color, indigo, and what his collection of large indigo tapestries meant to him.
“The color of indigo is the first color people ever found,” Sihombing said. “Indonesia is the home of indigo because many varieties of indigo can be found there. This is a project I’ve developed in my country since 2008. I am proud of all of my work.”
The second gallery, “Boundless Fantasy,” took audiences down the “rabbit hole”; it was an interactive collection, which fused technology with the surreal.
One of the highlights was the “Offline Eye.” It was more than just an artistic model; it was an interactive, thought-provoking experiment. The exhibit included a pair of goggles which showed pre-recorded footage from a first-person point-of-view of a different location, such as Times Square. Suddenly, the video feed would cut and a miniature camera in the shape of an eye-ball attached to the goggles dropped and presented what it was recording, rolling around the floor to the participant back in Stony Brook. This created a sudden shift in perception and location.
The experiment was designed to make viewers ask questions such as: “What is reality? Is it simply a matter of perspective and what I am presented with? If so, how easy would it be to manipulate one’s reality by simply constructing one for him?”
The final gallery titled, “Marvels and Monsters,” strived to “unmask Asian images in US comics.” The collection addressed Asian stereotypes that were portrayed in American popular culture through comic books from 1942 to 1986.
Janet H. Clarke, associate director of Research and Instructional Services of University Libraries, worked to bring the exhibit from New York University. Science fiction writer, William F. Wu, complied the archive, the largest collection featuring Asian comic book characters. His goal was to raise awareness of how anti-immigration sentiment from the turn of the 20th century triggered the history of illustrations of Asian stereotypes in American culture. Negative attitudes towards Asians after Pearl Harbor and the Vietnam War, also placed derogatory labels on Asians that persist to a degree today.
One of the most prevalent themes is the notion of the “Alien”–images dehumanizing Asians to represent the perpetual foreigner as a result of Western xenophobia.
“In a way, I feel if I have the racial ‘marker’ I have to do it,” said Clarke, in regards to why she promoted the exhibit. “Just by virtue of being an Asian in the US, I’ll be seen in a certain way. We have a lot of Asian American students on campus. We need to create these dialogues and discussions.”
Although the reception’s galleries first seemed like an idiosyncratic combination of thematically opposing artwork, a unifying theme was revealed by the end of the evening–Asia is gigantic, encompassing not just the Far East, but also regions in South, Southeast, Central Asia and more. The artwork of these cultures is individually unique. A symposium dedicated to not only express, but also to preserve the rich identity and integrity of Asian people is a cause worth fighting and weaving for.