By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
They say that art imitates life. Yet it does more than that. Art explains life, and art helps us understand our lives. The Seattle Asian Art Museum’s Asia Talks series is an ongoing program that sits down with Asian and Asian diaspora writers, artists, and others connected to the Asian art world. Starting July 2 through July 30, in a joint effort with Kazbar Media, the Talks will feature interviews with three female artists whose experiences revolve heavily around migration, and who each may use their art to cope with the past and present political situations.
“We wanted to do a series with several artists who were born outside the United States, and then came here, so they were immigrants,” explains Sarah Loudon, Director of the Museum’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas. “It was interesting how it worked out because they all immigrated here as young adults and they all moved here to go to art school…that’s an interesting connection between them, and all three happen to be women.”
Promotional material for the July Asia Talks states that the artists will discuss “their art, heritage, and coping with the present moment.” According to Loudon, “the present moment” refers to “the social and political context we all find ourselves in—the artists’ not necessarily having access to their studios, to possibly being alone, or confined, the way most of us are. It also has to do with the larger political context of difficulties that we’re having with issues of immigrants, and also with migrant workers and migration, that are addressed in these artists’ work, and also the Black Lives Matters movement— how they’re coping and working within that.”
The first artist to be featured, Shahzia Sikander, was born in Pakistan and is now based in New York. “She deals with new applications of what she trained in —a traditional art form in Pakistan, the older court painting tradition, miniature painting…but with an eye to contemporary art and how that form might be opened up and become exploratory in a way of investigating a variety of issues,” Loudon describes. “She brings a lot of different perspectives to her work that inform that type of painting, American as well as Islamic, and of course feminist, and post-colonial concerns.” Sikander earned her Bachelors of Fine Arts at the National College of Arts in Lahore, then a master’s at the Rhode Island School of Design. While she has branched into different media, the work for which she became well known is dubbed “neo-miniature.”
Sikander’s work was shown at the Conversations with Tradition exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum in 2003.
The second artist in the July Asia Talks series, Helen Zughaib, has seen conflict before, in the form of the Syrian refugee crisis. She had been living with her family in Lebanon, when war necessitated their relocating to Greece, then France. Zughaib ended up in the United States, where she studied at Syracuse University and then settled in Washington, D.C.
“She’s someone who has been experiencing this unfolding refugee situation because her father was from Syria,” Loudon tells us. “The Syrian refugee situation has been going on for a while now…the impact is enormous in terms of millions of people.” Zughaib’s art demonstrates how art and life so often interconnect by the strong link she feels to the art of Jacob Lawrence, and his Migration series, with whom many Seattleites are familiar.
“She was so drawn in by that series that she sat and looked at it for several hours, and then began a Syrian migration series of paintings,” Loudon explains.
The third and final artist of the July series, Hung Liu, also approaches the past and the present, and how we meld both to find our place and our meaning in the world. Originally trained as a Social Realist mural painter, Liu lived through the Maoist Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Now working out of Oakland, Liu developed her own style that draws inspiration from old photographs, starting with photographs of Chinese “street people, laborers, prostitutes, and so on,” says Loudon. “More recently, she’s been involved in painting a migration series that is based on photographs by Dorothea Lange of the migration from the Dust Bowl out to California.” Loudon says that Liu was “moved by” Lange’s work because of “her own family’s experiences, the difficult situations that they lived through.” Liu identifies with the citizens in Lange’s photos.
“She could see one of them as being just like her grandmother.”
Each artist will be interviewed by Laila Kazmi of Kazbar Media. The July Talks are part of the Museum’s efforts to “create a new path forward,” as Loudon describes, during this challenging time. A series called Asia Arts in Action: Makers’ Night will continue in September with a local Tibetan American cartoonist and animator, Tenzing Dorjee, and also in the fall, the Asian Art Museum is looking forward to a series titled Color in Asian Art: Materials and Meanings. “Staying engaged online is the best thing we can do just now,” says Loudon.
The July Asia Talks are free and will be available via Zoom. To learn more and sign up, visit SAM’s website at seattleartmuseum.org/visit/calendar/events?EventId=69824.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.