Sunday, February 15, 2004

So Much to Write...

Yesterday I finally checked out an exhibition at the Internationl Center for Photography. I've always found photo exhibits more promising than paintings and sculptures just because I'm less likely to see crap. The exhibition was titled "Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self" and showcased some provocative works about race, culture and diversity through the ages in America. Overall, I was very impressed by the artworks on display.

I found the following pieces most memorable:

* An article from Life Magazine in 1941 titled "How to Tell Japs from the Chinese." It was published shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack and purported to inform its angry readers the differences between the Chinese "innocent victims...whose homeland is our staunch ally" and "Japs." The article even included pictures of a "typical" Chinese man and a Japanese man, along with astute observations such as "never has rosy cheeks" for the Chinese and "massive cheek and jaw bone" for the Japanese scribbled on the pictures. I don't think I have ever heard of China being mentioned as "our staunch ally" since I moved to this country. I guess it's that whole Communism thing. The article was so absurd that I couldn't help but laugh. We have come a long way. Or have we?

* A picture by Roz Payne (I took this picture from here) taken at a 1969 rally for the release of Huey Newton, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party. This picture evoked a strong response from me because I was shocked to see Asians doing any kind of protesting in the 60's, given our reputation as a silent and passive group that has often refused to unite and protest the common injustices we've faced. And to see these two ordinary-looking Asian/American men proudly expressing their solidarity in open defiance of authority with a group as controversial as the Panther!! The "Yellow Peril Supports Black Power" sign just made the picture all the more poignant. I need to hang a copy of this picture on my wall, if I can find it.

* A picture of a geisha surrounded by a bunch of pictures of white guys. The wall on which the pictures are hung are covered by actual personal ads posted by white guys seeking Asian women. I think I have said all that needs to be said on this topic.

* Three pictures: 1.) portrait of a middle-aged black man, who looked like an honest, decent family man, taken in 1965; 2.) picture of the same man with a sack covering his head and a noose around his neck after he was hung on suspicion of killing a white man, also taken in 1965; 3.) picture of him lying in a coffin, looking serene.

* Before and after picture of a Native American man taken in the 1800's. Before: he appeared disheveled (the word "drunk" was somewhere in the caption underneath the photo). After: ten years later, he's clean cut and looks sharp in a tuxedo ("Hard-working Christian").

After seeing the Roz Payne picture I started wondering why I never learned anything about the Black Panthers in my high school history classes, not even in AP US History. Were my teachers reluctant to expound upon the kind of subversion espoused by the Panthers? I guess a simpler explanation would be events that occurred after World War II weren't covered by the AP test.