Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I pondered the "Yellow Terror" exhibit at the Wing Luke Asian Museum

(with props to the Wing Luke)

From K.

Sometimes, art is art for art's sake. Other times, it makes a statement about who we are and how we live. "Yellow Terror" at the Wing Luke in the Chinatown/ID definitely is the latter.

I checked out the exhibit on opening night after dinner at nearby Green Leaf with a foursome of girlfriends, not quite sure what we'd find but assured by our friend J. that it'd blow our minds. An hour later, after being moved to tears by Roger Shimomura's collection of World War II-era anti-Japanese, anti-Oriental ... memorabilia, for want of a better word, I was startled anew at how easy it is to coerce a nation toward hate.

Movie posters boasted of sailors taking on housefuls of geisha girls. Valentine cards emblazoned with Chinamen told sweethearts "I chink I'll be your Valentine." Even Dr. Seuss was in on the act, illustrating a variety of buck-toothed Japanese warriors for postcards during his stint as a talented propagandist. What hurt my heart most, though, were the "hunting licenses" not for deer or elk but for "Japs," which I hope were issued in jest. But you never really know what's going on in peoples' heads, do you?

Shimomura's paintings are eye-poppingly shocking. He favors the pop-art style of Warhol and Lichtenstein, though his twist is to relate his feelings of isolation by portraying himself as a searingly yellow, bucktoothed stranger aside comic book-perfect Caucasians. Click here to see more. I stared at "American Portrait #2" for at least 10 minutes, trying to take it all in.

"Yellow Terror" is open through April 18. At the very least, see it to also check out the Wing Luke, which is filled with fascinating glimpses into Asian-American history and the West Coast immigrant experience.

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