Asian American artists’ banners on display at Noguchi Museum in Long Island City

Banners made by Queens-based Asian American artists hang from the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City. (Photo credit: Katherine Abbott)

In response to the rising anti-Asian hate crimes, the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City launched its first open call for artist banners and honored the finalists at an opening reception, where the banner debuted. 

The event held in November was attended by the artists and their guests, the museum’s partner organizations, elected officials and staff members, including museum director Brett Littman, who opened the reception.

With the aim of raising awareness and amplifying local AAPI voices, emerging AAPI artists based in Queens were invited to submit designs for the museum’s outdoor banner space to advocate for anti-racism, where one artist would win an honorarium of $1,000 and two runners-up would each receive $500.

The initiative was created to show solidarity with museum founder Isamu Noguchi’s Japanese heritage and act against the Asian hate that has been circulating the news since the onset of the pandemic.

“Amid escalating violence against the AAPI community and across the United States, the staff felt absolutely held to demonstrate proof that we are allies with these marginalized communities,” Littman said in his opening remarks.

According to the Noguchi Museum’s media coordinator Justin Baez, artist submissions were evaluated by a jury composed of the museum’s organizing committee, a cross-departmental, intergenerational group of staff volunteers, including himself, and representatives from two local partner organizations, Queens Council on the Arts and Asian American Arts Alliance.

After receiving and narrowing down over 20 submissions, the museum selected Chemin Hsiao as the inaugural winner and Woomin Kim and Mo Kong as runners-up.

(Left to right) Mo Kong, Woomin Kim and Chemin Hsiao won the Noguchi Museum’s open call. (Photo credit: Katherine Abbott)
(Left to right) Brett Littman, Mo Kong, Woomin Kim and Chemin Hsiao. (Photo credit: Katherine Abbott)

Presented across six outdoor banners, Hsiao’s work, entitled “Dandelions Know” (2021), was chosen for its powerful message of anti-racism, solidarity and hope in response to the growing tide of violence and fear faced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the U.S.

“What drew us to Hsiao’s work was his ability to capture a lot of personal emotions toward the subject, doing it in a way that was aesthetically translatable to the banners,” Baez said. “We also appreciated how he tackled not just anti-racism but the current political landscape in a way that was narrative.”

Hsiao, a Taiwanese visual artist based in Elmhurst, was initially hesitant to submit a banner proposal, struggling with how to tackle the heavy subject matter.

What ultimately propelled him to participate was how much he admired and related to Noguchi’s experience as Nisei, a second-generation Japanese American, especially during World War II.

In his essay, “I Become a Nisei,” Noguchi wrote that Niseis are “a middle people with no middle ground.” This particular quote, Hsiao said, is the essence behind the central dandelion piece.

“Largely, the banner should be about Asian hate crimes and violence, but that specific piece is about Mr. Noguchi himself and how he’s feeling and how I related to it being from Taiwan,” Hsiao said. “I just took on this perspective and thought, as a Taiwanese person and an AAPI community member living in New York, how do I feel?”

When you arrive at the entrance of the museum, the banners are presented in a sequential standing: 1) “Surrounded,” 2) “Fear,” 3) “Cut the Loop,” 4) “Dandelions Know (as they float, too),” 5) “Heal and Forgive (if possible),” 6) “We are Only Human. Keep Communicating.”

“Each of them serves a different purpose, but if I had to pick [my favorite], it’s the happy accident one in the center of the series, the dandelion one,” Hsiao said. “When I planned the six drafts, that one was the hardest one coming out because it’s not really related to the Asian hate crimes, but eventually, that’s the one people relate to the most.”

Banner “Dandelions Know” (Photo credit: Katherine Abbott)

Hsiao’s hope is that the public aspect of the artwork will pique the interest of anyone passing by and prompt them to stop, look and be curious.

Inside the museum, there is a description of the banner, as well as the descriptions and visuals of the banner proposals by the two runners-up.

Kong, a Chinese multidisciplinary artist and researcher residing in Sunnyside, created their pieces during the middle of the pandemic, curating objects, such as food and trinkets from childhood, in the tradition of classic art inside of their refrigerator.

Whether the images act as a sort of riddle or as a familiar ensemble, Kong hopes people can still create a connection to the images.

“What I’m trying to do is use [this project] as a mirror to reflect and check our personal history, where we come from and why certain things are important to us,” Kong said. “I also want to show, especially for kids and immigrant kids, the possibilities to make artwork. There doesn’t have to be high access to start making art, but it can be something around you.”

The next runner-up, Kim, a South Korean artist based in Ridgewood, wanted to change the inaccurate and xenophobic narrative surrounding shijang, or street markets.

“I just wanted to create the narrative of shijang in the way that I know which feels more accurate to me, which is very colorful and celebrative and full of energy and vibrancy,” Kim said. “It is an organic curation of materials that might not make sense in Whole Foods or in Trader Joe’s.”

The museum was drawn to the way Kim’s aesthetics combined with the theme, especially with her use of textiles and materiality. “The way she created the banners sort of speak on the day-to-day, quotidian nature of Asian American life and elevated it,” Baez said.

Mo Kong showing their banner design to guests at the reception. (Photo credit: Katherine Abbott)

Through her panels, Kim hopes she can give visitors in Asian communities moments of familiarity and remind them of their own memories in a celebratory way, as well as be a voice for the daily experiences of Asian people for those who aren’t familiar.

“We’re really proud of our finalists and the artists who have submitted,” Baez said. “We hope this serves as a precedent and we can continue this series in the subsequent years, taking on different tones and different requirements but still holding on to that core vision and desire to amplify the voices of local artists.”

The banners are on display outside of the museum’s entrance.