Nestled in the heart of Pasadena, the USC Pacific Asia Museum creates inspirational exhibitions to advance understanding of the art, history and culture of Pacific Asia. With most of the gallery space dedicated to exhibition programs that bridge the past and present, the latest exhibition, Off Kilter: Power and Pathos, is consistent with the museum’s commitment to depicting the diversity and diaspora of Asia and the Pacific Islands.
At first glance, the exhibition is packed with contemporary art, with works by Sandra Low, Keiko Fukazawa, and Kim-Trang Tran. Each artist shares their adventurous and experimental take on their chosen mediums and their ability to make relevant and notable social commentary. Familiar pictorial language and cultural-artistic techniques can be found in her works, reminding the viewer of the ongoing topicality of history.
But taking a few more moments to examine each piece closely will throw you off balance. What appeared to be in perfect balance is not and your perspective will change forever after seeing this exhibit.
Drawing on her personal experiences from growing up in Southern California, Sandra Low examines the push and pull of cultures across multiple generations through a lens of humor and sentiment. Her ironic view of the world is palpable, and it’s only when you analyze each piece that you really understand how she balances the personal with the poignant.
In A Very Civil Cheese, two delicate teacups are displayed in a rocky coastal setting, with a circular, repeating pattern obscuring the cloudy sky. But what is the yellowish, sticky substance covering the teacups? his cheese. But why? We Americans have a love affair with cheese, and it’s not a staple in the traditional Asian diet. Her Cheesy Paintings series draws attention to the opposites of American life – seduction, the illusion of affluence, gluttony and kitsch. Rendered as familiar scenes, these paintings merge the expected with the unexpected.
Keiko Fukazawa is known for her poignant sculptures, which often incorporate traditional Asian motifs while simultaneously making social commentary to question the systems we participate in. She was born and raised in Japan and has lived in the United States for almost forty years. Her work deals with gun violence, bullying, rebellion, sexual abuse, fear and identity.
In her series Perception Plates and Peacemaker, she explores how her multi-year residency in Jingdezhen, China, inspired a burst of creative energy that produced some of the works on display at Off Kilter. As with the other plates in this series, the money plate is layered with meaning. She explores and experiments with old and new, Asian and Western elements and our modern hybrid culture. The juxtaposition of a traditionally decorated plate rim with a color blindness test technique in the center of the plate is fascinating. Fukazawa challenges you to first find the hidden word and second to explore the connection between traditional and contemporary cultures.
Kim-Trang Tran creates multimedia artworks that challenge viewers to question how they perceive the world through the influence of history. Trans’ experiences as a Vietnam War refugee who immigrated to the United States at the age of nine was central to her work.
Movements: Battles and Solidarity is a large-scale, three-channel video installation projected onto hand-made screens containing images that explore the connections between three significant events between 1972-74. Images and clips of the 1973 Battle of Versailles, the 1972 Vietnamese “Napalm Girl” and the 1972 Farah Manufacturing Strike are shown simultaneously on three screens. These events shed light on how the civil rights movement collided with high fashion, garment industry unrest and the Vietnam War to show how women challenged power structures to create autonomy.
A museum exhibition is nothing without visitors. The artworks featured in this exhibition challenge you to look beyond simplicity and contemplate the uncomfortable truths in society. These artists created art to stimulate conversation, and it’s in our best interests to continue what they started.