Shattering Stereotypes in Asian American Art

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By: Kaitlin Wright

The other day, someone on a blog I was reading quoted an Asian American poet from Fresno named Andre Yang. Yang said, “Many have told me to just ‘forget the past and look at the things the future has to offer’, but it’s hard to do when so much of my people’s future has to do with its history.” I think this quote speaks to the Asian American artists’ purpose and inspiration that was discussed in chapter two of Unsettled Visions. The works that these Asian American artists create are associated with their heritage and its relation to their present and future identity. These artists use various mediums to display their Asian heritage, but also to reveal their place in Western society. Machida quotes artist Dinh Q Le, saying that Asians who migrate to America are “always going back and forth between the two [Asia and America]” (Machida 117).  

The artists talk about having to combat the Asian stereotypes that hold such a strong grip on the American imagination. We see it on a regular basis when someone makes a joke in a movie, or even in daily conversation; things like knowing martial arts, eating with chopsticks, wearing rice paddy hats, and growing Fu Manchu mustaches. Even if these stereotypes do not apply to all ethnicities, the uninformed idea of Asian culture lends to the thinking that “Asians [are] all of a piece, homogeneous, and therefore fundamentally alike, both in body and mind” (Machida 59). Tomie Arai, in her piece, Framing an American Identity simultaneously represents American and Japanese cultures through her personal art. She juxtaposes stereotypical images of Asians with nice, normal photos of Asian Americans. This piece presents images silk-screened onto pieces of wood. The photos alternate between real depictions of people and stereotypes. The wooden boards that display the photos of the real people are also decorated with a bamboo shade. It looks like the shade is pulled up to reveal the face underneath, so as to perhaps say that this is how Asians look without the veil of stereotypical ignorance. They are human, not wearing a mask or disguise of any kind. The photos are placed superior to the smaller, stereotypical images as another way to assert that the top image is preferred over the other. Aria says that she was “trying to humanize the work or the image so that people can connect” as opposed to stereotypes which unfairly lump people together (Machida 111). 

This talk about stereotypes made me think about the blending that happens in these Asian American works of art.  Blending occurs because pieces of the creator are infused in the art– there is a dual representation of both Asian and American identity. I think there is a blending that occurs between artist and viewer as well. That is the point of art anyway, right? To communicate. Whether an artist is combating stereotypes, or refiguring famous European art with an Asian body, the thoughts that the artists present begin to mix with the thoughts that the viewer has. Whether or not the opinions agree is not primarily important. These works open up a space of consideration for a different experience  and point of view illustrating that opinions aren’t necessarily fixed in time. There is room for change in thought and action and there is room to be both Asian and American. The image of the “other” will hopefully fade if replaced with other images that familiarize and promote the Asian American identity within the general American menagerie.  

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One thought on “Shattering Stereotypes in Asian American Art

  1. kaitlinew says:

    P.S. The picture used in my post is from the cover of a book called “Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology (Secret Identities)”. The Washington Post wrote an article on the book and one of the authors of the comic book, Jeff Yang said, “The reality we have as Asian Americans is shaped by the perceptions that others have of us…It’s the stereotypes that persist across time and history that daunt us and continue to challenge us today.”

    Link to the article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/comic-riffs/post/shattered-asian-stereotypes-comic-anthology-creators-take-on-race-through-villainous-archetypes/2012/11/12/95bac5c8-2ced-11e2-89d4-040c9330702a_blog.html

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