Attendees on Wednesday, Sept. 28, gathered at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College to commemorate the opening of its new art exhibit. Titled “Understatements: Lost and Found in Asian America,” the exhibit explores the evolving layers of identity that is represented by the term “Asian American.”
The exhibit features the works from artists Mika Agari, Emmy Catedral, Xingjian Ding, Kiani Ferris, Megan Mi-Ai Lee, Jeremy Yuto Nakamura, Sharmistha Ray and Yu-Wen Wu. Each artist encourages intimate, yet impactful interpretations of their work while expressing themselves through sculpture, painting, video and paper.
These artists attempt to propose a daily practice of intimate gestures to confront similar negotiations of the world through their work. Experimenting in various media and processes, their works grow out of wandering, restless energies coalescing in small-scaled objects and actions. They encourage close, slow readings for viewers to get lost in order to find new ways out.
According to Queens College President Frank Wu, this exhibit is especially important now as Asian Americans have been targeted more for hate crimes in recent years. This rise was in large part due to some people blaming Asian Americans for the spread of COVID-19, which originated in China.
“Asian Americans were being blamed for a contagion,” President Wu said. “That’s what this show is a response to. It is an antidote to that hatred. To see something like this, we’re just so lucky that we’re able to share it with you and here on this campus, which has people from the world over.”
An initiative of the Queens College School of Arts, this exhibition was made possible in large part thanks to the $1.1 million donation by The Thomas Chen Family/Crystal Windows Endowment. Additional funding was also provided by the Milton & Sally Avery Arts Foundation, Kupferberg Center for the Arts and Queens College. Public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York City Council also support the exhibition.
Thomas Chen’s son, Steven, was on hand at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum for the exhibit’s opening. He spoke about the impact art can have on society while also praising the artists for their work.
“We believe art can be a powerful force for uniting rather than dividing people no matter what your background is,” Chen said. “And this multimedia exhibition showcasing the work of eight talented artist is a fantastic way to demonstrate that power. I certainly hope that this will be the first of many great exhibitions, activities, events and scholarships at Queens College that our foundation and philanthropy can contribute.”
According to the museum’s curator, Herb Tam, a lot of thought was put into where each work of art was placed. Tam wanted viewers to be able to absorb each work while also transitioning to the next one.
“We tried to create an environment in which people can slow down and look into details, try to make connections where maybe it’s unexpected and that is a big part of the show as we experience it,” Tam said. “It’s like a mood: it’s a vibe, it’s a feeling and it’s a set of emotions that relate I think by how a lot of us feel as Asians in America and sometimes it’s very hard to say what that is.”
One of the artists whose works were on exhibit, Dolma Sherpa, shared her personal experience about life as an Asian American. After moving to the United States from Nepal around a decade ago, Sherpa said she had difficulty adapting. She said she felt voiceless and isolated in school. However, she soon discovered a passion for art.
“Art is a form of communication that allows people from different backgrounds, cultures and times to communicate with each other,” Sherpa said. “In a country with a huge Asian demographic we are still underrepresented in the arts community.”