Unleashed by anxiety over the pandemic, the nationwide rise in anti-Asian hate has served as a call to action for many Asian American artists to take a stand: To actively challenge the historic negative stereotype of the vice- and disease-ridden Yellow Peril; to dismantle the pernicious and divisive myth of the model minority that pits achievements by Asian Americas as judgements against other communities of color; and to advocate for social justice, equity, and inclusion for all. Located on opposite coasts, the work of photographer Mike Keo and multimedia artist Monyee Chau exemplify this new generation of Asian American activist-artists who are working within their respective communities to effect change. Both skillfully employ social media to raise awareness.

Keo and Chau follow a long line of Asian American activist-artists and curators who deserve wider recognition. Most notably, in 1990 artists Ken Chu and Bing Lee and curator Margo Machida founded Godzilla: Asian American Art Network, an influential collective of artists and curators in New York City. Its members included Tomie Arai, Allan deSouza, Karin Higa, Arlan Huang, Byron Kim, Colin Lee, Janet Lin, Mei-Lin Liu, Stephanie Mar, Yong Soon Min, Helen Oji, Paul Pfeiffer, Eugenie Tsai, Lynne Yamamoto, Alice Yang, and Garson Yu, among many others.

Members met regularly at Art in General, an alternative art space on the border of Chinatown, to present and discuss their work. They also published a newsletter and organized exhibitions.  In 1991 in an open letter, Godzilla successfully petitioned the Whitney Museum to include more Asians in its exhibitions and staff, resulting in Byron Kim’s participation in the 1993 biennale where he debuted his powerful work Synecdoche (now in the collection of the National Gallery) and the appointment of Eugenie Tsai as a curator and the director of its now closed branch in Stamford, Connecticut in 1994.

Read the full article about Asian American art activism by Irene Mei Zhi Shum at ARTS Blog.