Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center Curator Adriel Luis leads us on a tour through the museums, featuring objects that reveal APA experiences transcending time and space, from an 1830s Fijian club to Michelle Obama's Jason Wu inaugural gown.Less
This iula, a ball-headed throwing club fashioned from the dense root-stocks of small hardwood trees, was collected during the United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842). The expedition's goal was to establish the U.S. as a world economic power. After a barter-gone-awry led to the killings of two members of the expedition’s party, a fight broke out between Americans and native Fijians – close to 80 natives died and two local villages were destroyed. Explore more at Smithsonian Libraries.
In 1934, Congress enacted a tariff on all foreign sugar exporters to the U.S. – including those in Hawai'i, then a territory. To avoid the tariff, the Hawaiian sugar industry worked with members of the U.S. government to coordinate a plan toward statehood. Amelia Earhart was tapped to become the first person to fly nonstop from Hawai'i to California – an act that would bring the Hawaiian islands closer to the rest of the nation. On Jan. 11-12, 1935, Earhart flew solo from Honolulu to Oakland.
Portraiture, traditionally reserved for the elite, has become a vehicle for the marginalized to claim their presence. Roger Shimomura's "Shimomura Crossing the Delaware" is a clear example. This piece – twelve feet wide and six high – is a collision of imagery from America, where he was born and raised, and Japan, where he traces his ethnic roots. This remix, an American painting in Japanese woodblock print style, illustrates the complex toggling of cultures that many Asian Americans experience.
Concerned about the wellbeing of fellow Japanese Americans interned at the Poston Relocation Camp in AZ during WWII, artist Isamu Noguchi volunteered to be incarcerated as well, with the goal or promoting arts and crafts among the other detainees. While there, in 1942, he sculpted a beautiful bust of his friend Ginger Rogers, which is on display at the Donald W. Reynolds Center. Ultimately, his mixed-race and international upbringing isolated him from other detainees, and he left after 6 months.
The Lares family shares a common immigrant experience with many who come to the U.S. Napoleon Lares immigrated from the Philippines in 1984, and spent the next seven years as an electrical technician in Maryland, working to bring his fiancée and two daughters over as well. This photo of the Lares family with relatives was taken at the Manila airport in 1991 as they prepared to depart for the United States. Click the link to the National Museum of American History to follow their journey.
Jason Wu, designer of First Lady Michelle Obama's inaugural gown, is a case study in transnationalism today. Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Wu immigrated with his family to Vancouver, Canada. His education took him around the world—going to school in Canada, the United States and France, studying sculpture in Japan, and eventually moving to New York City to pursue his career as a fashion designer. The First Lady has worn Wu designs on other historic occasions, such as her first official European trip.
This is a Wish Tree, among a series of trees planted by Yoko Ono in different cities throughout the world. Ono was born in Japan but has been influential in the American art world ever since she moved to New York in the 1950s. An early example of a transnational artist, Ono has lived between the United States, Japan, and Europe, actively presenting work as social commentary about each setting. Wish Tree is an interactive installation that invites visitors to share their visions for world peace.
Although Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist, she had her heart set on being an American for the 15 years that she lived in the United States. First moving to Seattle and then settling in New York City, she quickly became influential in the burgeoning avant-garde scene in the city, but eventually moved back to Japan for health reasons. Kusama’s work has been a constant conversation between her experiences in Japan and the U.S., addressing feminism, the effects of nuclear war, and mental health.
The Vietnam War (1955-1975), often intersected with the Civil Rights Movement. African American movements offered momentum for Native American, Latino, and Asian American movements, and concepts of “third world liberation” emerged, aligning the plights of people of color in the United States with issues overseas. Muhammad Ali compared the U.S.’s actions in Vietnam with the treatment of Blacks in the U.S., and Dr. Martin Luther King took a fierce antiwar stance. Visit the exhibit to learn more.
Megatron/Matrix, reflects Nam June Paik’s significance as one of the earliest Asian American transnational artists. Born in Seoul, South Korea, he fled with his family to Hong Kong during the Korean War. He traveled the world—studying music in Tokyo and Munich before pursuing a career as an artist in the United States. Considered the “godfather of media art,” Paik was obsessed with emerging technologies and often used them to create art that bridged cultural concepts. Tune into Paik's story.