Nestled in the heart of Pasadena, the USC Asia Pacific Museum creates inspiring exhibits to promote understanding of Asia Pacific art, history and culture. With most of the gallery space devoted to exhibition programs that connect past and present, the new exhibition, Off Kilter: Power and Pathos, is in line with the museum’s commitment to representing diversity. and diasporas from Asia and the Pacific Islands.
At first glance, the exhibition is filled with contemporary art featuring the works of Sandra Low, Keiko Fukazawa and Kim-Trang Tran. Each artist shares their adventurous and experimental attitudes towards their chosen mediums and their ability to provide relevant and remarkable social commentary. Familiar images and cultural artistic techniques can be found in their works, which remind the viewer of the story’s continued relevance.
But when you take a few more moments to closely examine each piece, you’re bowled over. What seemed to be in perfect balance is not, and your perspective will be forever changed after seeing this exhibit.
Sandra Low draws on her personal experiences growing up in Southern California and examines the push and pull of cultures across multiple generations through a lens of humor and sentiment. Her wry worldview is palpable and it’s only when you analyze each piece that you truly understand how she balances the personal with the poignant.
In A Very Civil Cheese, two delicate teacups are displayed in a rocky seaside landscape with a circular repeating pattern obscuring the cloudy sky. But what is the yellow goo that coats the teacups? His cheese. But why? We as Americans have a love affair with cheese and it is not a staple in traditional Asian diets. His “Cheesy Paintings” series draws attention to the contrasting components of American life – seduction, the illusion of prosperity, gluttony and kitsch. These paintings rendered as familiar scenes merge the expected with the unexpected.
Keiko Fukazawa is known for her poignant sculptures that often incorporate traditional Asian motifs while simultaneously providing social commentary to question the systems in which we participate. Born and raised in Japan, she has lived in the United States for nearly forty years. His works explore gun violence, bullying, rebellion, sexual abuse, anxiety and identity.
In her Perception Plates and Peacemaker series, she explores how her years-long residency in Jingdezhen, China inspired a burst of creative energy that produced some works exhibited at Off Kilter. The Money plate is layered in meaning like the other plates in this series. She explores and experiments with the old and the new, Asian and Western elements, and our modern hybrid culture. The juxtaposition of a traditionally decorated plate rim with a color blindness test technique in the center of the plate is intriguing. Fukazawa challenges you to first find the hidden word and then explore the connection between traditional and contemporary cultures.
Kim-Trang Tran creates multimedia works that challenge the viewer to question their perception of the world through the influence of the story. Tran’s experience as a Vietnam War refugee who immigrated to the United States at the age of nine has been central to her work.
Movements: Battles and Solidarity is a large-scale, three-channel video installation projected onto handmade screens with footage that explores the connections between three significant events between 1972 and 1974. Footage and clips from the Battle of Versailles in 1973, Vietnam’s “Napalm Girl” in 1972 and the Farah Manufacturing strike in 1972 are broadcast simultaneously on three screens. These events shed light on how the civil rights movement collided with high fashion, labor unrest in the garment industry, and the Vietnam War to reveal how women challenged power structures in an effort to to create autonomy.
A museum exhibit is nothing without the participants. The works of art presented in this exhibition challenge you to look beyond the simple and contemplate the uncomfortable truths of society. These artists created art to spark conversations and it’s in our interest to continue what they started.