By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
When asked about her favorite part of Wing Luke’s new Asian science fiction exhibit, exhibit developer Mikala Woodward didn’t have to think long.
The exhibit, explained Woodward, “Starts out in a teenager’s bedroom. A lot of people get interested in science fiction when they’re young, so a lot of people from the community advisory committee and from the staff contributed fan memorabilia, books, comic books, stuffed animals, things from their childhoods and teen years. So that space feels like a teenager’s bedroom with all this stuff.”
Asian science fiction fans, writers, and thinkers, Woodward elaborated, often endure mixed feelings about the genre, since for so many decades, it’s been dominated by white men and the attitudes of white men. Wing Luke’s “Worlds Beyond Here: The Expanding Universe of Science Fiction” aims to expand science fiction beyond those lines, pointing out all the progress of Asians in this field, and how much remains to be done.
The show, according to Woodward, took a few years to develop, with the help of an advisory committee composed of local actors, writers, game designers, and other kinds of creative minds. Since the printed word is not, in itself, very visual, the challenge was to locate, and sometimes create, exhibits and visuals to tell the story.
“Some of it was just straight-up cold-calling people, or emailing them from their website, ‘We’d love to include your work in the show,’” said Woodward. “We have some connections with other institutions, the Living Computer Museum, and the Museum of Pop Culture, and the Japanese American National Museum, so we were able to make some connections through our existing networks as well.”
Many of the contributions come from Asian talents in this area. Tamiko Thiel, a digital artist raised in Seattle, designed a piece constructed with Augmented Reality, blending the real world with computer-generated imagery. She modified this piece from an earlier version presented at Seattle Art Museum’s Sculpture Park, with the help of her cousin, Seattle artist Simon Kono, who designed a new background for it: a 30-foot backdrop with a futuristic vision of the city.
A collection of clips and stills from the popular film “Arrival” refers to Bellevue writer Ted Chiang, who wrote the original story adapted into the film. Wing Luke also secured a few pieces relating to the unique alien language created for the film, and a software app that lets you “talk” to a simulated alien.
SeaTac resident Stasia Burrington turned in several pieces, but her large one will probably grab the most attention. “So I kind of shared with her some of the stories by Asian American authors that described alien creatures, or alien planets, in poetic ways,” Woodward recalled. “She came up with the mural, and alien [images] that are like coloring book pages, that you can use to populate the mural.”
Other attractions include a Virtual Reality experience derived from local writer E. Lily Yu’s short story “The Wretched and the Beautiful,” about an ill-fated contact between aliens and humans; and a sculpture, part insect, part vehicle, from artist Jane Sekiguchi.
The most famous name connected to the exhibit is probably George Takei, the Japanese American actor, author, and activist known for playing Mr. Sulu in the “Star Trek” films and TV shows. Wing Luke obtained a replica of a starship bridge shown on the show, plus selections from Takei’s private collection of fan artwork, signed photos, and a replica of a teacup the actor drank from in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”
In the end, Woodward hopes that Asians will see some of themselves in these stories, and these ideas, edging out the “colonialism” that’s dominated science fiction for a long time. And non-Asians can, at the very least, acquire a new sense of possibility.
“As you go through the exhibit, you experience this alien space and this ‘Star Trek’ space, and a mad scientist’s workshop, and these other kinds of immersive environments,” she summed up.
“And by the end of it, you are an empowered creator yourself.”
“Worlds Beyond Here: The Expanding Universe of Science Fiction” runs through Sept. 15, 2019. For prices and more information, visit
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.