“It’s so hard to talk about identity sometimes because it is such an abstract concept but it’s also universal,” shares Katie Lee, apprentice curator for the daring new exhibit “The Vanishing Half,” currently on display at the District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC) in Adams Morgan.
Lee, who was born in Seoul, Korea, raised in Queens, New York and has lived in the District since 2017, when she earned her M.A. at Georgetown in Museum Studies, and now works at the Transformer gallery as the exhibitions and programs manager. When offered the opportunity to collaborate with mentor-curator Jayme McLellan as part of DCAC’s Curatorial Initiative, Lee knew she wanted to provide a prompt about erasure and identity to Asian and Asian American artists.
“I’ve always dealt with code-switching and assimilating myself into different environments,” Lee shares. “I invited these four artists with the prompt: What aspects of you vanish? Which parts of your identity recede into the background?”
The four artists on exhibit include Jiawei Zhao, who is based in both Beijing and New York, and whose collaged photographic self-portraits grapple with assimilation, alienation, adaptation and the anti-Chinese sentiments in the U.S. during the pandemic.
Baltimore-based Victoria Jang’s ceramics comment upon colonialism and indigenous artifacts.
Korean American photographer Yon Mi Kim turns her lens on absence — the death of her father, her grief and their familial meals in “Hymnals in the Kitchen.”
Yuqi Wang, a Chinese-born artist living in Shanghai, photographs her colleagues wearing all of their clothing, and in a parallel work, the same subject is stripped bare and weighed down by their sartorial signifiers. Her series of photos entitled “Immortal Games” critique both corporate culture and capitalism’s effect on identity.
Lee was inspired after reading the bestselling novel “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett, a family epic that follows two sisters — one of whom passes for white — and the ongoing racism, colorism, sexism, and transphobia that haunts generations of this family to curate an exhibit about identity centering the works and experiences of Asian and Asian American artists. She also read the memoir “Crying in H Mart” by Japanese Breakfast singer Michelle Zauner and the posthumous debut of Anthony Veasna’s “Afterparties.”
“Together, these three books are all extensions of investigating one’s identity,” Lee shares. “I was really inspired to look inward and think about the ways in which I move about in this world and evaluate who I interact with. I was just grappling with that personally when I was invited to do the show at DCAC.”
Lee’s vision for this gallery exceeded her expectations and provided new insight into others’ perspectives of identity.
“This exhibition opened up my eyes to understanding how unique identity can really be in the various ways artists responded to the prompt. We all experience our own form of identity, what we put out into the world, what others think or project onto us, and this is the culmination of that. The exhibit is a reclamation of space, providing the space for these vanishing parts to be shown and celebrated, too.”
“The Vanishing Half” is on display at the District of Columbia Arts Center until January 9. The exhibit is free, but donations are recommended and may be sent via PayPal to either [email protected] or [email protected] with “The Vanishing Half” as the subject line.
The curator and artists may be found at the following on Instagram at Victoria Jang: @victoriaajang, Yon Mi Kim: @softcrumbs, Yuqi Wang: @_yukiwang_, Jiawei Zhao: @jiawei_zhao_ and Katie Lee: @hikatiekats.
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