During the month of May we are exploring art by Asian Americans, which generally includes East and Southeast Asia, and artists from the Pacific Islands of Australia, New Zealand, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Micronesia, Niue, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea.
You may notice that Asian Americans are better represented than Pacific Islanders. This is an unfortunate reality and one that is slowly changing. Contemporary Pacific Islander artists have historically been underrepresented in the traditional art historical narrative, and, therefore, publications. This imbalance is precisely why we observe heritage months; they are important moments to celebrate as well as call to action and advocate for better representation and critical attention. Be sure to check out the external links below to learn more and connect with even more artists outside of our collection.
Independent of any one artist, you may find these resources engaging to explore:
Hover over or click (mobile) on the Information icon to learn about each item. Click on external links or watch embedded videos to learn more about featured artists.
Asian American Drama contains 252 plays by 42 playwrights, together with detailed, fielded information on related productions, theaters, production companies, and more. The plays themselves have been selected using leading bibliographies and with the editorial advice of Josephine D. Lee, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; Esther S. Kim, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; James S. Moy, University of New Mexico; and Karen Shimakawa, University of California, Davis.
Edward Sakamoto is a celebrated Hawai'i-born playwright whose work explores the Japanese-Hawai'ian experience. His plays sensitively depict their unique language and cultural adaptations to the islands and mainland. His plays can be simultaneous hilarious and heartbreaking; detailed depictions of Japanese-Hawai'ian immigrants and universal truths. Learn more about Edward Sakamoto from his obituary in the Rafu Shimpo Los Angeles Japanese Daily News.
You can find many of Sakamoto's works, including Aloha Las Vegas, in the Asian American Drama database linked above.
Founded in 1971, the Kumu Kahua Theater has championed plays by, for, and about Hawai'i's people. The collection of plays highlighted below are all by Hawai'ian playwrights, including Sakamoto. Many of his plays debuted at the Kumu Kahua Theater.
A. Rey Pamatmat is a widely celebrated Filipino-American playwright and Co-Director of the Ma-Yi Writer's Lab--and Yale School of Drama alum! He also teaches playwriting at SUNY Purchase. As a gay man of color, Pamatmat's writing explores not only themes of ethnicity but also changes in gay American culture. Quoted in a 2016 American Theatre article, Pamatmat says, "When I write about ethnicity, I try to do it from the inside. I don’t like writing about ethnicity as a thing to display to other people. I think that it’s more interesting if the audience steps into your shoes." House Rules and Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, two of his most famous plays, are featured below (but we have others, too!).
Check out A. Rey Pamatmat's website.
Read the American Theatre article.
Learn more about the Ma-Yi Theater Company, a collective of Asian-American playwrights.
Briar Grace-Smith ONZM is a filmmaker and one of New Zealand’s most celebrated writers of award-winning plays, screenplays, short fiction and television scripts. She is also highly experienced as a script consultant and works both locally—such as mentoring New Zealand screenwriters at the Aotearoa Writers Labs, working with Hugo Award- and Academy Award-winning writers such as Michael Goldenberg and David Seidler and Sundance Filmmakers’ Lab Artistic Director, Gyula Gazdag—and internationally—such as consulting on projects by indigenous writers from around the world at the imagineNATIVE Screenwriting Labs in Toronto and White Fish Lake. Grace-Smith is an inaugural recipient of the Arts Foundation Laureate Award and was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2018 for her contribution to theatre, television and screen. She belongs to the Ngati Hau hapu of Nga Puhi.
--Adapted from the artist's page on Cameron's Management
Learn more about Grace Briar-Smith at Read NZ Te Pou Muramura.
"Sima Urale is a filmmaker and actor. Born in Samoa in 1967, she moved with her family to Wellington when she was seven years old. She cites her experience as an actor and her occasional practice as a painter as crucial to her directorial aesthetic...Her debut film was O Tamaiti (1996), which won best short at the Venice Film Festival, the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and the NZ Film & TV Awards, as well as a Silver Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival..In 2004 she was awarded the first Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writers' Residency at the University of Hawaii. In 2010 she began lecturing at Unitech Film and Television School and in mid-2012 became head tutor at Wellington's NZ Film and Television School." --from The New Zealand Arts Foundation.
Tip: If the link below doesn't work, you can view O Tamaiti here.
Learn more about Sima Urale with articles, filmography, and photos from NZ On Screen.
“An-My Lê was born in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1960, and now lives and works in New York. Lê fled Vietnam with her family as a teenager in 1975...eventually settling in the United States as a political refugee. She received BAS and MS degrees in biology from Stanford University...and an MFA from Yale University, New Haven (1993). In 1994 she returned to Vietnam for the first time...Since then her photographs and films have addressed the impact of war both environmentally and culturally. Whether in color or black-and-white, her pictures capture the disjunction between the natural landscape and the intervention of soldiers and machines meant for destruction.” –from the Guggenheim.
The Yale Center for British Art recently acquired one of her photographs, the first work acquired by a Yale School of Art alum. Photo above from the YCBA.
On Contested Terrain, below, is the first comprehensive exhibition of An-My Lê's work. See a video and exhibition photos from the Carnegie Museum of Art.
Nam June Paik is widely considered to be the founder of video art. He’s particularly known for his use of CRT TVs and VCR/VTR technology, manipulated to effect both the displayed image and the magnetic film. He may be best known for being the first to use the phrase “isuperhighway” when discussing the possibilities of technology and telecommunications, although he used “electronic superhighway” rather than “information superhighway.” His works are held in important collections all over the world, and multiple important cultural institutions in the US including the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Smithsonian, and the Guggenheim.
Pictured above, Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii (1995) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Yayoi Kusama is widely considered one of the most important contemporary artists. Born in Japan, Kusama is a prolific painter, sculptor, and performance artist who has been making work professionally since the 1950s. Her works are visually exciting and use motifs of repetition and the infinite, drawing the viewer in and holding them there. She has been open about her struggles with intrusive thoughts and her mental health, and has talked about her usage of art and especially repetitive motifs as a way to deal with them.
Check out Yayoi Kusama's bio and website!
And, honestly, just google her. You'll find tons of stuff.
Julia Cho is a prolific playwright and television writer. She is most well-known for her writing for television shows Big Love and Fringe. Cho has also produced several one-act and full-length plays, including the award winning BFE and the critically acclaimed Office Hour. We have many of her plays in our collection! Cho also wrote You: A Short Play for The Yale Review as a one-person short play, meant to be performed by the reader in the venue of their choice, breaking down the concept that plays need to be performed on stages and for audiences.
Give acting and directing a try with You: A Short Play!
We have many choices in our collection for David Henry Hwang, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Tony Award winner, and another Yale School of Drama alum. As a playwright, screenwriter, television writer, librettist, and theater professor, Hwang is probably best known for his play M. Butterfly which won the 1988 Tony Award for Best Play, or his work writing the books for Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida and the Broadway adaptation of Disney’s Tarzan. Hwang also co-wrote the libretto for the 2007 operatic production of Alice in Wonderland with composer Unsuk Chin. Written in English, this is a masterpiece of modern opera that is easily accessible for those who have never experienced opera before.
Check out Hwang's personal website.
"Hone Kouka (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kahungunu) MNZM is an acclaimed Māori writer, producer and director, the youngest winner of the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award and multi award winner. He has had plays produced in South Africa, Britain, Hawaii, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Caledonia, as well as throughout New Zealand, with three plays being translated into French, Japanese and Russian. Hone’s plays include Ngā Tangata Toa, Waiora: Te Ūkaipō, The Prophet and Bless The Child...Hone became a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to Contemporary Māori Theatre in June 2009" --from Tawata Productions
Read more about Hone Kouka from at Read NZ Te Pou Muramura.
Learn more about Tawata Productions, a production company co-founded by Hone Kouka that focuses on plays by Māori and Pasifika artists.
John Puhiatau Pule ONZM was born in Liku, Niue and grew up Auckland, New Zealand, where he still lives today. He is both a painter and an author of poetry and novels. He is a widely celebrated artist and his work beautifully adapts Pacific art forms—including hiapo, barkcloth painting. His visual art incorporates Niue history and ancestry.
See examples of Pule’s art and information about his exhibitions at his page with Gow Langsford Gallery.
Learn more about Pule and read some of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation.
Roger Shimomura was born in Seattle in 1939. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he and his family were forcibly incarcerated in Japanese internment camps for two years before being relocated to Chicago, where his sister died. After the end of the war, the Shimomura family returned to Seattle, but to a changed social and cultural landscape. Shimomura uses his art to explore his experiences with racism and his own feelings surrounding racial depictions of Asian characters, especially using imagery based on wartime propaganda caricatures of the Japanese and Chinese.
Check out Shimomura’s website.
Learn more about Shimomura’s art and practice some guided looking with this National Portrait Gallery activity.
See Shimomura’s 100 Little White Lies at the Greg Kucera Gallery.
Do Ho Suh is a South Korean-born sculptor and installation artist best known for his anti-monumentalism works depicting full houses or hallways made entirely out of wire frames with carefully and artfully woven nylon and silk. His works are held in collections all over the world, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, MoMA, and the V&A in London.
Check out Do Ho Suh's profile from the Lehmann Maupin Gallery.
Learn more about Do Ho Suh and some of his works from the Smithsonian American Art Museum's artist page.
Masami Teraoka has been making work professionally since the 1970s. He was born and initially educated in Japan, furthering his education in California. The subjects of his art are often shifting, working to combine the meeting of the East and the West through cultural dialogue. His early work was based on the aesthetics of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, depicting subjects as mundane as McDonald’s hamburgers and as complex as the AIDS crisis. Since the late 1990s, his style has shifted away from woodblocks and towards modern interpretations of renaissance oils. He often references modern socio-political issues and uses his art to express his political beliefs. He has been the recipient of two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Check out his personal website.
Learn more about his work on his profile page from the Catharine Clark Gallery.
Marie Rose Wong, PhD, is a Professor Emerita at Seattle University’s College of Arts and Sciences in the Institute of Public Service. She’s particularly interested in Urban Studies, including urban planning, land use, and architectural history. Building Tradition captures 157 years of history of Seattle’s pan-Asian International District and includes 24 original maps showing population settlement and 65 photographs illustrating those shifts.
Check out Dr. Wong's bio page from Seattle University.
Born in China in 1906 and educated at what is today the San Francisco Art Institute, Yun Gee was a Chinese expatriate artist who produced oil paintings, works on paper, and sculpture. Yun Gee’s art incorporates his experiences in and influences from China, the United States, and Europe; the racism he experienced and political movements; and many different avenues of creative expression, including music.
Li-lan is Yun Gee’s daughter, born in New York. From the Tina Keng Gallery: “Li-lan invites viewers to the visual space that she has delicately constructed. The images in her work come from a wide range of cross-cultural sources. Eastern and Western culture subjects blend naturally in her work, co-existing in balance and in harmony, without conflicts, which reflects her life experience in multiple cultures.”