“8 Americans” highlights Asian American artists, identity, histories

CHART (74 Franklin St, New York, NY 10013) presents “8 Americans,” an exhibition (November 12 – January 22, 2022) of eight multi-generational Asian American artists, whose work, across various mediums, comments on notions of shared identity and histories. While the number 8 has a significance in Asian cultures as a sign of auspiciousness, the impetus for choosing that specific number for the exhibition became more urgent following the tragic shooting in Atlanta earlier this year.

The collective response to that unspeakable act—including mass protests around the world against racially motivated violence and the passing of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act—served as a defining moment in our country’s history of finally acknowledging and addressing the pervasive anti-Asian violence and racism that was exponentially exacerbated during the pandemic. The 8 here is meant to honor the eight victims of that tragedy in March.

In an effort to continue a conversation initiated by artist Christopher K. Ho and curator Daisy Nam with their anthology of correspondences, “Best! Letters from Asian Americans in the arts,” CHART has extended the prompts from Ho and Nam’s book to the participating artists in “8 Americans” and asked them to both submit letters about their own personal experiences and to invite another person to do the same.

These chain letter-like exchanges —from Ho and Nam to CHART, from CHART to the artists, and so on —will be presented on CHART’s website throughout the run of the exhibition. As a testament to this moment, it is our hope that they will inspire further discussion and openness across generations within the artistic community.

Through boldly colored fantastical scenes, Hyegyeong Choi mines the emotional depths of everyday life, creating richly stylized environments for her characters to fully and uninhibitedly express their feelings and desires. Choi eschews traditional representation, instead exaggerating her figures in a subtle critique of and response to the skewed and unrealistic bodily norms that typify contemporary notions of ideal feminine beauty.

Hyegyeong Choi Gimbap Heaven, 2021 Acrylic on canvas 68 x 72 in Courtesy the artist
Hyegyeong Choi, Gimbap Heaven, 2021. Acrylic on canvas, 68 x 72 in. Courtesy the artist.

Throughout his decades-long multidisciplinary practice, Tishan Hsu has focused on exemplifying how technological advances and an influx of information have warped our physical and mental states. Hsu underscores just how odd the mechanisms of our bodies are, and how they are constantly in the process of evolving into something, not necessarily better or worse, but different.

The artist Byron Kim—perhaps best known for his work Synecdoche, a grid of monochrome paintings, each of which corresponds to a single person’s skin tone—renders group portraiture in the abstract. Here he presents works from his series of “bruise” paintings, canvases treated with natural elements that bear a resemblance to skin post-trauma, which is also in the process of healing.

New York–based artist Antonia Kuo creates complex, multimedia works that challenge, or intentionally misuse, conventional methods of registering images. As our media-based contemporary culture becomes increasingly disconnected from linear record-keeping, Kuo’s object-based artworks, via analog methods or chemical applications, operate as mechanisms for recording the movement of light, time, and process, and the cultural histories embedded therein.

Timothy Lai’s paintings, often representing personal narratives and populated with avatars of the artist and others in his circle, are vulnerable meditations on their artist’s own experiences with race, relationships, and family. Despite their autobiographically inspired origins, the works maintain a fluidity both in facture and framework: Lai leads the viewer into the scenarios but stops short of resolving their beguiling ambiguity.

Working as a ceramicist in a medium so often defined by flawless perfection, Jennie Jieun Lee creates sculptures—vessels, busts, slabs, and masks—that openly reflect the fallibility and distortions of everyday life. The inspirations for her distorted and occasionally ruptured pieces stem from the artist’s own personal experiences as an immigrant and minority in the United States, and the works maintain dualities that vibrate between strength and fragility, voiceless and expressive.

Los Angeles-based artist Kang Seung Lee has scanned the bodies of fellow activists and artists in his queer community and joined their marked and scarred epidermises into one continuous three-channel video, Skin (2021), turning their bodies into one unbroken chronicle. Presented here is a black-and-white photorealist drawing of a still from that video, which, in its stillness, allows us to register how similar our disparate bodies can be.

With her large-scale installations, often constructed from many single objects, sourced from a local community, Jean Shin demonstrates the remarkable potential of a public properly mobilized. Her work in the exhibition reflects on her “Fallen” series, which memorialized lost historic flora, physically representing the power people have to alter their environments and the importance of maintaining them as opportunities for growth.

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