Exhibit Looks to Promote Dialogue on Asian-American Experiences
Issue   |   Tue, 10/31/2017 - 23:47
Photo courtesy of Ann Guo '20
Guo’s work at the Chinese American Museum inspired this project.

Invisibility and marginalization are experiences that students of color in predominantly white institutions face to varying degrees. Amherst College recently has made an effort to create opportunities for students of color to speak on the exhausting experience of feeling invisible or devalued on campus. The major problem with this approach, many students find, is that it is emotionally and mentally draining to display one’s genuine pain in the hopes that a massively privileged majority will, at last, fully listen and understand.

Furthermore, many students of color on campus, myself included, believe that the best way to center our stories should come from collective efforts by the students themselves. Artists of color on campus have been particularly active in not only confronting the rest of the student body with their stories, but finding community in the process. #AmherstIBelong is the most recent example of this. Ann Guo ’20 aims to rejuvenate that process through an open call for Asian-American students to submit artwork to be displayed in Keefe. Guo is now hosting an open call for artwork submissions.

Though not a visual artist herself, Guo has had a vested interest in centering Asian American bodies and identities for a while. An anthropology major, Guo spent her summer working at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, where she participated in organizing a Getty-sponsored exhibition focusing on Chinese Caribbean art and diaspora.

“I learned about the severe discrimination AsAms [Asian Americans] experienced and how they tie into the racial and ethnic relations of today,” Guo said in an email interview. “I also learned about the large presence of pan-AsAm activism in the U.S. in the ’70s and ’80s.”

The art exhibition will explore not only Asian-American history, but also Asian-American bodies’ representation on campus across color, gender and class. Guo specifically highlighted the lack of indigenous, Pacific Islander and Southeast Asian Americans.

The concept of confronting the student body with marginalized communities’ stories is a much more direct and visible way of representation on campus, as opposed to organizing meetings and dialogues which students have the option of attending. “Art inherently creates dialogue. The exhibition will be in Keefe, which a lot of students frequent, and the centering of these stories plays into the dynamics of space as dominance and the dominant narrative,” Guo said.

As it stands, an example of the false dominant narrative of Asian Americans in the United States is the stereotype that they are the “model minority”, often only directed toward Asian Americans of Chinese and Japanese descent. This stereotype is one that American politicians and officials often point to as a reason why other minorities, such as African Americans, do not deserve equity measures like affirmative action. This myth and others are ones that will be confronted in the exhibition and the reasons why it aims to present Asian American identities within intersectional ties. Guo will look at Asian American identities through the hierarchy of color, gender, disability, among others. She hopes that by displaying Pacific Islander and indigenous Asian identity through student art, she will challenge the dominant narrative that Asian Americans are a homogenous group. Non-East Asian Americans, such as those of Indian, Filipino or Vietnamese descent, are often left out of the dominant picture of Asian Americans except when the conversation turns to questions of historical struggle.

Mental health is another issue not at the forefront in Asian-American communities, primarily due to the model minority myth. These multiplicities and intersectional ties are vital to understanding the true identities of Asian-American students on campus.

Ultimately, Guo’s upcoming exhibit is about validating and giving voice to Asian-American students. Although she managed to have it count for a class project, it is otherwise completely independent, born of her desire to see her community centered.
When asked if she wants to do anything after this, Guo said, “I may be interested in exploring a Five College show centering AsAm narrative or doing more exhibitions in the future.”