Tag Archives: Asian American Art

Q&A with ‘Queering Contemporary Asian American Art’ editors Laura Kina and Jan Christian Bernabe

This Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month we are excited to share special features with authors and editors of new and recent titles that celebrate Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

Today we speak with Queering Contemporary Asian American Art editors Laura Kina and Jan Christian Bernabe about their groundbreaking volume, published this spring, and corresponding website.

Queering Contemporary Asian American Art takes Asian American differences as its point of departure for bringing together artists and scholars pushing back against normative assumptions, expectations, critiques, and practices within Asian American art and visual culture. Taken together, these nine original artist interviews, cutting-edge visual artworks, and seven critical essays explore contemporary currents and experiences within Asian American art, including the multiple axes of race and identity; queer bodies and forms; kinship and affect; and digital identities and performances. The interdisciplinary and theoretically informed frameworks in the volume engage readers to understand global and historical processes through contemporary Asian American artistic production.

Why did you want to put together this book?

Laura Kina and Jan Christian Bernabe: Most of the contributors of Queering Contemporary Asian American Art met at a 2012 National Endowment for the Humanities supported summer institute entitled “Re-envisioning American Art History: Asian American Art, Research, and Teaching” at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University. There we discussed the ways in which we could advance the field of Asian American art history through our teaching, writing, and curatorial projects.

We were very fortunate to have listened to a lecture on “doing” Asian American art history by the late Karin Higa. In her lecture, she described those of us invested in the field as “the termites of art history.” It was a call to critique and nibble away at what we call in the book “the white hegemonic pillars of art practice, history, and criticism.”

We wanted to heed Higa’s call to find innovative and timely ways to work on Asian American art history and thus formed a group at the seminar called “Que(e)rying Asian American Art,” for which the title of our book is named. We saw intense interest by the members of the group to think about the ways in which queer theory could inform Asian American art criticism.

In many ways, the discussions we had during the seminar and at many conferences after the seminar had ended informed the creation of our book. We like to think that our book is a product of our termite activities.

What was it like writing and putting together this kind of volume?

LK & JCB: The process of writing the book was extremely intense but exhilarating! We invited seven authors to write critical essays for the anthology and in total we interviewed 17 artists, from emerging to established in their careers. We started the process of interviewing during the summer of 2014 with genderqueer and transgender artists in Chicago: Kiam Marcelo Junio and Greyson Hong, respectively.

We worked together virtually and in coffee shops throughout Chicago in the two years of the book’s production, and we made a point of organizing panel discussions at academic conferences with the various artists and scholars involved in the book as. There was a lot of transcription of interviews involved as well as selecting artwork to be in the book. Our last interview was in spring 2016 with Tina Takemoto, a San Francisco based artist who self-describes as a “queer, gender queer, gender nonconforming, Asian American dyke.”

What do you hope is the book’s most important contribution?

LK & JCB: We hope our book builds on a queer of color critique and advances the field of Asian American art and contemporary art. The book is a call to build queer coalitions of resistance, to push back against the dominant “model minority” paradigm in Asian America of assimilationist “good” behavior—of not making waves and being silent and complicit in the face of anti-blackness, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and so forth that pervades US culture.

What is your next project?

LK & JCB: We are currently curating a virtual exhibition inspired by our book for the Center for Art and Thought called “Queer Horizons.” In this current moment of political and cultural transformations, especially affecting people of color and LGBTQ communities, the show seeks to envision what a queer futurity looks like. This idea of a queer horizon, borrowed from the late Jose Muñoz, proposes what he calls “a greater openness to the world.”

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

LK & JCB: The artwork is the most important thing. On a basic level, we just want to introduce the important work of the artists and scholars in this book to a wider audience. On a broader level, we want to inspire readers to form their own queer coalitional politics; we are writing to bring together feminists and queer of color artists and scholars to take up our “termite activities” and keep on nibbling at the hegemonic foundations of art history.


Laura Kina is an artist and a Vincent de Paul Professor of Art, Media, and Design at DePaul University. She is the coeditor of War Baby / Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art. Jan Christian Bernabe is the operations, new media, and curatorial director at the Center for Art and Thought. The contributors are Mariam B. Lam, Eun Jung Park, Alpesh Kantilal Patel, Valerie Soe, and Harrod J Suarez. Featured artists are Anida Yoeu Ali, Kim Anno, Eliza Barrios, Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik, Wafaa Bilal, Hasan Elahi, Greyson Hong, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Lin + Lam (H. Lan Thao Lam and Lana Lin), Viet Le, Maya Mackrandilal, Zavé Martohardjono, Jeffrey Augustine Songco, Tina Takemoto, Kenneth Tam, and Saya Woolfalk.

Talking about Critical Mixed Race Studies in the Wake of Ferguson

In this guest post, Laura Kina, coeditor of War Baby / Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art, discusses the emerging discipline of mixed race studies and what it can contribute to ongoing dialogues surrounding race, police brutality, and social justice in the wake of Ferguson.

Since the deaths this past summer of two unarmed black men, Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York by white police officers, our nation has been embroiled in discussions of police brutality and racial profiling. The social unrest and racial tensions of our current moment are a stark contrast to the congratulatory “post-racial” moment in 2008 with the election of President Barack Obama–the first black “biracial” president. Recent racial tensions also present stark contrast to the celebration of the multiracial “melting pot” that America celebrated following the 2000 US Census, which allowed individuals to self-identify as more than one race for the first time.

Those earlier, problematic readings of race—as something to either get beyond or as something new and worthy of celebration—coupled with the dearth of history and representations of mixed race Asian American lives inspired my coauthor Wei Ming Dariotis and I to publish War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art (University of Washington Press, 2013). Along with my DePaul colleague Camilla Fojas, we also set out to challenge these myths and establish a scholarly field of Critical Mixed Race Studies.

In November 2014, DePaul University hosted an international conference—“Global Mixed Race,” the 3rd biennial Critical Mixed Race Studies conference in Chicago. More than 600 people attended, including scholars, artists, performers, filmmakers, activists, and students from across the United States as well as Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia. The conference featured two keynote speakers from Ireland: Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain, author of Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants and coeditor of Global Mixed Race; and Zélie Asava, author of Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed Race Identities in Irish Film and TV. Through our partnership with the nonprofit organization Mixed Roots Stories we presented live performances and film screenings across the conference. This central inclusion of the arts prioritizes the importance of storytelling, the rootedness in the texture and affect of lived experiences, the world of imagination, and visions of alternative realities.

Closing remarks at Mixed Roots Stories Live Performance at the November 2014 Critical Mixed Race Studies conference. Photo by Ken Tanabe.

Closing remarks at Mixed Roots Stories Live Performance at the November 2014 Critical Mixed Race Studies conference. Photo by Ken Tanabe.

Critical Mixed Race Studies is about recognizing the totality of one’s heritage—seeing race and systems of racism in the particular context of mixed race and talking about what this means for our lives and communities today, what it has meant historically, and what we might envision our futures to be like, and what we can do now to help in anti-racist struggles across many different communities. It reflects a turn to comparative racialization that challenges discrete categories of race and it is inherently tied to colonial and imperial histories, giving it a transnational and global focus that displaces the United States from the center of critical analysis.

The mixing of races is the result of various kinds of migration, both forced and at will, and it is the outcome of imperial expansion throughout the ages. Moreover, the idea of mixed race is not based on discrete racial categories or some cultural or ethnic similarities—e.g., food, customs, or language—or geographical location. Rather mixed race is a way of seeing that enables an examination of the comparative processes of racialization without resorting to any single defined group identity or place.

Our 2014 theme, “Global Mixed Race,” recognized this widening scope of critical mixed race studies in its comparative, transnational, and global dimensions. We are attentive to the persistence of racialized violence and the troubled history of racism in the US and the world as we explore issues of multiracial and mixed intimacies and contact along with the possibilities of global anti-racist political alliances among multiracial communities and their allies.

As the urgency of how much black lives matter fades from the headlines, it’s important for us to keep an intersectional focus on these issues. As Critical Mixed Race Studies and Mixed Roots Stories and many other multiracial community organizations collectively stated in November 2014 in support of the family of Michael Brown Jr.: “We are connected to these events and stand in solidarity with the many individuals and communities that have been harmed by the legacies of white supremacy, privilege, and racism. As community organizers, scholars, activists, writers, and artists, we remain resolute in dismantling racism through our work and actions.”

Laura Kina is an artist and Vincent de Paul professor of Art, Media, & Design at DePaul University. She is the coeditor, along with Wei Ming Dariotis, of War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art. Her solo exhibition, “Blue Hawaiʻi,” is on view from January 27 through March 3, 2015 at the Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery at New Jersey City University. Visit Kina’s website for more information.

Watch Critical Mixed Race Studies and Mixed Roots Stories videos from the November 2014 conference:

Critical Mixed Race Studies keynote address: Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain, “Mixed Race, Transconnectivity, and the Global Imagination”

Mixed Roots Stories keynote address : Zélie Asava, “The Black Irish Onscreen”

Mixed Roots Stories live performances

Recommended Reading

The University of Washington Press is the publisher of a number of recent and forthcoming titles that contribute to mixed race studies as well as ongoing dialogues about race, artistic expression, state violence, and black history:

Rising Tide of Color: Race, State Violence, and Radical Movements Across the Pacific
Edited by Moon-Ho Jung

Radical Theatrics: Put-Ons, Politics, and the Sixties
By Craig J. Peariso

Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora
Edited by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, Lan Duong, Mariam B. Lam, and Kathy L. Nguyen

Stars for Freedom: Hollywood, Black Celebrities, and the Civil Rights Movement
By Emilie Raymond

Forthcoming Fall 2015:

Portland’s Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City
By Lucas N. Burke and Judson Jeffries

Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime
By Deborah Elizabeth Whaley