By Dylan Hartano, OCA-GS intern
Special to the Northwest Asian Weekly
Sept. 6 marked the official debut of Bruce Lee Ascending, a permanent art installation at the Odegaard Undergraduate Library (OUGL) at the University of Washington (UW). The event is sponsored by UW’s American Ethnic Studies Department, the OCA Asian Pacific Advocates of Greater Seattle (OCA-GS), and the Bruce Lee Foundation, with additional support provided by UW Libraries and the UW School of Art History and Design.
The art piece, featured on the main staircase of OUGL, was created by current UW Communications graduate student Han Eckelberg, while he was an UW undergraduate student in Art and American Ethnic Studies. Eckelberg created the project for a class with Professor Whitney Lynn in Winter 2020. He initially installed it at OUGL, just before the pandemic began. It quickly proved popular among the student population and was voted the Best Artwork at the 2020 UW Maker’s Summit.
According to Eckelberg, Bruce Lee Ascending pays homage to Bruce Lee who studied drama and philosophy at the UW in the early 1960s. Lee’s quote, “When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form,” particularly inspired Eckelberg. “This artwork reminds all students that, as the quote from Bruce Lee suggests, gaining knowledge in any art requires hard work and discipline.”
“As a central gathering place for our UW community, OUGL is a fitting place for the timeless message embodied by Bruce Lee Ascending,” said Simon Neame, Dean of University Libraries.
“Aligned with the Libraries’ values to enrich the student experience, we are honored to provide a permanent home for this incredible artwork that will be seen by students for years to come.”
For UW student and OCA-GS intern Brooklyn Hose, Lee’s personal story is particularly moving.
“Bruce Lee persevered against systemic oppression, especially against Asian Americans in the media . . . He illuminates the truth that BIPOC are not caricatures.”
In 1973, one of Bruce Lee’s close friends, the legendary basketball player and former Lee student, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, once wrote that ”Bruce was an amazing martial artist, but I responded to him for other reasons as well. He had been hurt by racism and said so . . . He worked with the people who developed the Kung Fu character and was supposed to star in the television series. He would have been perfect, a master working his art . . . but whoever it was that decided such things made it clear to Bruce that they didn’t think a Chinese man could be a hero in America. They passed over Bruce and gave the part, and the stardom, to David Carradine.”
Despite Lee’s superstardom, Dr. Rick Bonus, chair of American Ethnic Studies, notes, “There have been several attempts to create a work or monument to honor Bruce Lee,” the legendary martial artist and international icon.
“Bruce Lee is an inspiration to many people so it’s good to see it finally happening.”
In 1992, the UW did not give permission to “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story,” on campus. In 2007, Jamil Suleiman had proposed the Bruce Lee Garden, only to see it stall.
As OUGL is designated as a “UW Only” site, a valid Husky card is required for entry to view the installation. A limited number of non-UW tickets are available. If you’re interested, register at https://forms.gle/LsVeAgrGbo886dbp8 or contact Dylan Hartano at email@example.com.