Panel Discussion/Talk

AAPI Artists, Activists, and Collectives: Working Definitions

Thursday, May 25, 2023
7 – 8PM

In conjunction with their Spring 2023 issue on Freedom, Lapham’s Quarterly convenes an intergenerational roundtable of writers, artists, and activists to discuss the past and present of collective organizing in New York City’s Asian American / Pacific Islander arts community. Revisiting potent case studies in artwashing and protest such as the demonstrations leading up to the cancellation of a planned Godzilla retrospective at the Museum of the Chinese in America in 2021, this discussion will probe the history and historicization of contemporary pan-Asian activist collectives and pose questions such as: what unique leverage and vantage do AAPI artists and activists have at their disposal? And how do we organize collectively without becoming monolithic?

Though often enshrined as a collective, the Godzilla: Asian American Arts Network was a radically dispersed, rhizomatically organized support network and discursive space for and about Asian American artists; today, groups like the Chinatown Art Brigade and Youth Against Displacement carry forward the fight for accountability in the art world and beyond. This conversation will look forward to the work being done by these groups today and reflect on the groundwork laid by collectives past. Author and exhibition organizer Ryan Lee Wong moderates the conversation between Todd Ayoung, Alexandra Chang, artists and Godzilla affiliates to be announced, and cofounder of Chinatown Art Brigade Betty Yu.

Todd Ayoung is a transdisciplinary visual artist and cultural worker originally born in Trinidad and Tobago. He is a founding member of REPOhistory, served on two steering committees of Godzilla, An Asian Pacific Islander Art Network, worked with GulfLabor Artist Coalition and was on the steering committee which helped organize the Peoples Cultural Plan for NYC.He teaches studio art at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY and Parsons, The New School in NYC.

Alexandra Chang is the Interim Associate Director of the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience and the Associate Director of the American Studies Program and advises the MA Public Humanities track at Rutgers University-Newark. She is Associate Professor of Practice in the Art History program of the Department of Arts, Culture and Media. She is working with New Jersey urban gardening community partners and knowledge bearers of the New Jersey Munsee Lunaape Nation and the Rutgers community to develop The Healing Garden at the Price Institute at RU-N. She is also organizing the Decolonizing Curatorial and Museum Studies and Public Humanities Project (DCMP). Recent exhibitions she has curated include with co-curator Manabu Yahagi Imagining Justice: Asian American Art Movements at the Mori Art Museum in 2022 and Books and Things: The Studiolo of kate-hers RHEE at Paul Robeson Gallery in Express Newark at RU-N in 2022, among them.

Ryan Lee Wong is the author of the novel Which Side Are You On. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, lived for two years at Ancestral Heart Zen Temple, and currently lives in Brooklyn, where he is the administrative director of Brooklyn Zen Center. Previously, he served as program director for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and managing director of Kundiman.

Betty Yu is a multimedia artist, photographer, filmmaker and activist born and raised in NYC to Chinese immigrant parents. Ms. Yu integrates documentary film, new media platforms, installation, photography, and community-infused approaches into her practice. She is also a co-founder of Chinatown Art Brigade, a cultural collective using art to advance anti-gentrification organizing. Ms. Yu has been awarded artist residencies and fellowships from The Laundromat Project, A Blade of Grass, International Studio & Curatorial Program, and Intercultural Leadership Institute, among several others. Her work has been presented at the Brooklyn Museum, Queens Museum, NY Historical Society, Tenement Museum, Artists Space/ISP Whitney Museum, and several others. In 2018, she had a solo exhibition at Open Source Gallery in New York. In 2017, Ms. Yu won the Aronson Journalism for Social Justice Award for her film “Three Tours” about U.S. veterans returning home from war in Iraq, and their journey to overcome PTSD.