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Asia America Art Collective: At the Intersection of Culture and Politics

March 20, 2017

  Photo by John Seyfried

Spoken word artist Troy Osaki, whose work covers themes of immigration, war, police, white supremacy, and resistance, performs at Cat in the Cream.

Since 2013, a group of students has joined together on a bi-yearly basis to produce a weekend of programming under the auspices of Asia America Art (AAArt) Collective. Historically composed of just a few students, the group produces a weekend of programming that highlights artists working across a broad range of mediums and who identify with or are influenced by the Asian/Pacific Islander Diaspora (A/PID).

Formed in 2013 by Karl Orozco ‘13 and Joestine Con-ui ‘13, the creation of AAArt Collective was a direct response to the question of where art fit into A/PID groups on campus. The pair observed a divide between existing organizations that focused on the A/PID community.

“Throughout my time at Oberlin, there had been this self-fulfilling prophecy that the Asian American Alliance focused on the ‘political’ issues, and all other APID student groups were ‘cultural.’ This distinction always felt hollow to me,” says Orozco. “Joestine and I often questioned art's place in this dichotomy. Art heals, art preserves our histories, art contextualizes our narratives ― is it not both [political and cultural]? We wanted to get students from both sides of this political/cultural coin invested in our community and saw AAArt Collective as one means to do so.”

  Photo by Pang Fei Chiang

Artist Jenifer K. Wofford gives a talk on her work at the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Her painting, MacArthur Nurses, is currently on view as part of the exhibition “Conversations: Past and Present in Asia and America."

Continuing in the footsteps of its two founders, the 2017 AAArt Collective took place over two days. The series of workshops and programs on March 10 and 11 included an artist talk by San Francisco artist and educator Jenifer K. Wofford, a workshop from Chinatown Art Brigade member Liz Moy who works to combat gentrification in New York City's Chinatown, and a spoken word performance by Troy Osaki, among other programs. The event was planned and executed entirely by AAArt Collective organizers and fourth-years Miles Ginoza, Holly Hoang, and Elka Lee-Shapiro.

Preparations for AAArt Collective began during the summer of 2016. This year's event is now the collective’s third iteration. “It's incredibly exciting to see how this event has grown and been kept going by a small group of passionate students,” says art history major Lee-Shapiro.

Lee-Shapiro’s involvement with the collective hinges on her passion for Asian diasporic art and culture. “As an art lover, art history major, and someone who is involved in the A/PID community here at Oberlin, AAArt Collective presented an incredible opportunity to be part of an event that brings together multiple interests that matter to me.”

The weekend also presents an opportunity to create a distinct area for art created by individuals in the A/PID community. “I think it's important to make space for and celebrate artists who occupy identities that are marginalized within mainstream art spheres,” says Lee-Shapiro. “It's also been a great opportunity to be in contact with and support artists whose work I admire.”

For Hoang, a history major from Ellicott City, Maryland, the collective's presence on campus has been crucially important to her college experience. “AAArt Collective has become such a critical fixture of Oberlin's A/PID community. So often are Asian American narratives erased and dominated that they are often invisible in institutions like colleges, museums, and galleries,” says Hoang. “Having this event on campus presents an opportunity for us to come together as a collective and engage with each other in ways we normally aren't able to by way of academia.”

Orozco, now a freelance illustrator and middle school art teacher at the Queens Museum in New York City, is heartened that the collective lives on. “Personally, it feels validating to know that there is still a desire for a more inclusive and representative arts curriculum at Oberlin.”

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