By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
July 21 to 24, artists and organizations will come together at 419 Occidental Avenue in Pioneer Square to energize the space and increase awareness of the diversified talent of our community. In a seven-story historic warehouse that is part of the RailSpur revitalization project, the nonprofit Forest For The Trees (the event is named the same), plans for the public, installations, murals, exhibitions, and a four-day block party. On level five will be “Howl,” “a survey of female-identifying and non-binary artists” curated by Lele Barnett and Amanda Manitach.
“It’s just a breathtaking space. We couldn’t say no,” said Manitach, an artist herself, who will be exhibiting a 13-foot drawing with a quote by Frances Farmer which she has reproduced over the years: “Those who scream incoherent challenges at unseen enemies perhaps were too gentle to slash out and destroy their real and intimate foes.” Manitach likes this quote for its endless applicability, including to “Howl,” which “holds space for howls of joy, heartbreak, rage, defiance, beauty, ecstatic release.” She associates the title with the poem by Allen Ginsberg.
Barnett also thinks of the exhibition as a rallying call, in the way wolves howl to gather their pack. “‘Howl’ is about women’s stories from all perspectives, and that includes immigration and diaspora stories,” Barnett explained. Important to the show will be topics such as abortion, made even more volatile due to the recent overturning by the Supreme Court of Roe v. Wade. Barnett and Manitach have joined with Shout Your Abortion to “amplify the imagery” that group has been using to “elevate the conversation.” “There are both triggering and calming aspects of the show,” Barnett continued. “There are the parts of the show that scream out…and there are parts…that ask you to breathe. And parts in the middle that talk about our journeys, our stories.”
Two Asian American artists, Fumi Amano and Nina Vichayapai are taking part in “Howl.” Amano, who became interested in feminism after participating in the Women’s March in Washington DC in 2017, will be showing a piece made of rope and steel called “Where are you from?” that represents a uterus large enough for visitors to walk inside of. Amano hopes that, by interacting with her art, “people can better understand the ways in which women’s bodies are impacted by outside forces and rethink their own participation in the patriarchy.”
Amano hails originally from Aichi Prefecture in Japan and has a background in traditional glass art, which brought her to Seattle, a city famous for its glass crafting, to learn more.
She currently works at the Pratt Fine Arts Center as the glass studio manager, where she likes providing “equal opportunities for the community to learn art making processes,” as well as “opening the studio space for local artists to support their practice.” Since the start of the pandemic, connection to the community has become even more important for Amano. She is increasingly interested in public art because of the opportunity it creates to communicate with people directly, “without any filter.” In line with the exhibition’s theme, Amano too, has a “howl”: “I have been encouraged to speak even louder as an Asian artist since the racial equity movement has grown recently. I am incredibly passionate about bringing different groups of people together through my art.”
Vichayapai was impacted by the time spent quarantining during the pandemic, during which she conducted two artist residencies that led to the artwork she will be exhibiting at “Howl,”: “Home Here.” This soft sculpture is composed of stylized non-native flowers that grow in the Pacific Northwest and which, to her are a metaphor of “immigrant, refugee, and other migrant communities who have long been present in the Pacific Northwest and made impacts on both the social and physical landscape of this region.” Vichayapai likes to explore the relationship between humans and places through the hand-stitching that she was taught by her mother. Through her work, which includes the underrepresented histories of people and ecosystems, she hopes to “reveal the pervasive and often surprising impacts that diverse communities have had on our surroundings which have contributed to enriching the places we call home.”
Vichayapai’s family immigrated from Thailand and settled in Kirkland. She “howls” against xenophobia and racism. “Hateful rhetoric toward immigration and race has become more commonplace and has led to a massive increase of violence against people of color. As an Asian American I feel this threat daily. I hope that showing “Home Here” in “Howl” will provide a timely counterpoint to false fantasies of the past which emboldens those who target people of color with blame and discrimination.” To Vichayapai, while some of the subjects encountered at “Howl” are painful, the exhibition is ultimately healing and inspiring: “To be able to address these issues in a show alongside many other powerful female-identified and non-binary artists is extremely healing. While I often find myself feeling dejected at the current political climate, [“Howl”] is deeply restorative to my drive to keep going and fighting for a better future.”
Both Barnett and Manitach live on Beacon Hill and appreciate the “beautiful community, rich with culture, artists, diversity, generosity,” said Manitach. Along with the idea of a wolf’s howl, the word and poem, “Howl,” immediately came up when planning the exhibition: “The political turmoil…the supremacist abuse of power…to manipulate and control women’s bodies and to suppress communities—was on our mind,” explained Manitach, who allowed that, “while this exhibit isn’t specifically designed to be a ‘women’s exhibit,’ we approached women, non-binary, female-identifying, or hardcore allied artists to make work for ‘Howl.’”
Ginsberg’s “Howl” has been described as a tribute to rebels, to artists and thinking people, and as a commentary on western society, with its capitalism and conservatism.
The style closely resembles Ginsberg’s related poem, “Tears,” which he wrote as part of a reflection on a visit to Seattle and Pioneer Square, and which is still evocative today: “Tears I’m crying all the time now. I cried all over the street when I left the Seattle Wobbly Hall. I cried listening to Bach. I cried looking at the happy flowers in my backyard, I cried at the sadness of the middleaged trees. Happiness exists I feel it. I cried for my soul, I cried for the world’s soul.”
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.