By Janos Gereben
Potent themes of history, memory, pain and love make up “Hungry Ghosts.”
The multidisciplinary art show, on view in the I-Hotel Manilatown Center Gallery, features works by Asian-American women examining the Buddhist concept of the presence of lost (or unhappy) spirits in limbo before reincarnation. (The concept crosses Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cultures.)
The exhibit “explores the way unresolved personal and collective struggles continue to haunt us today,” says curator Michelle A. Lee.
Presented by the Asian American Women Artist Association, the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center and the Manilatown Heritage Foundation, the show also examines gender and ethnic discrimination as well as political-global conflicts.
Juliana Kang Robinson’s allegorical painting, an image of bears sailing on a sea of bones, refers to a recent era of devastating hunger in North Korea, as bears are instrumental in Korean creation myth.
Ka Yan Cheung’s “Share,” a painting based on photograph of her mother, sister and and their girlfriends, offers a life-affirming alternative to mostly heavy subjects in the show. “As young migrant workers in Macau, their joy came from each other’s company and coming together for a humble meal,” says Cheung says. “It’s a celebration of sisterhood and female friendships, and it’s a metaphor for a community and economy based on sharing and mutual aid, instead of competition and greed.”
In her other works, Cheung employs comics to tell stories, she says, that deal with the dark side of humanity, from anti-displacement struggles of the International Hotel, to the fight for racial justice in the streets of Ferguson, Mo. She says, “We are called to remember and then act.”
In “Supporting as Herself,” Kaitlynn Redell uses film stills of 1920s Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong to address the notion of identity.
Redell, who lives near Los Angeles’ Chinatown, where Wong was born, says “The manipulated representation of Wong’s public image, the stereotypical roles she played, have created an aura that haunts me to the core. I see Wong as a lynchpin for what it means to be both American and foreign – ‘othered’ simultaneously.”
Karen Nagano says her mixed-media painting “Serpent and Wings” is meant to “extend an openness of heart, mind and hand to the repressed, neglected, cast-out aspects of myself which haunt the netherworld between wake and sleep.”
IF YOU GO
Where: I-Hotel Manilatown Center Gallery, 868 Kearny St., S.F.
When: 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays; closes April 29
Admission: Free, donations accepted
Contact: (415) 399-9580, www.manilatown-heritage-foundation.org