Gathering with Asianish

In Conversation
Asianish potluck gathering (photo credit: Sara Jimenez, September 22, 2022)

Co-curators Cecile Chong and Sophia Ma are delighted to present “Gathering,” an exhibition that showcases the connections between forty-five Asianish artists and their artwork. Asianish, an informal collective of AAPI artists and art professionals, was established in March 2018 to foster a safe and inclusive environment for a diverse community of Asian identities. Through conversations, artistic expression, and shared meals, the group explores themes such as code-switching in art contexts and the longing for a sense of belonging in their adopted homeland. The exhibition will be held at Tiger Strikes Asteroid–New York (TSA-NY) in Bushwick from June 24 to July 30, 2023, and at FiveMyles in Crown Heights from July 8 to August 13, 2023.

With the onset of the pandemic, Asianish quickly adapted, transitioning their physical gatherings into virtual spaces. Initially convening monthly, the frequency of meetings increased to weekly, featuring artist presentations and thought-provoking discussions on anti-racist scholarship. This shift provided members a platform to share their concerns openly and lived experiences, fostering unity and support. “Gathering” serves as a celebration of the resilience and camaraderie cultivated by Asianish during these challenging times, illuminating the strength and solidarity within their community.

Tell us more about the genesis of your collaboration.

Cecile: The idea grew from my desire to demonstrate that being “Asian” is a multifaceted conversation. Co-founding Asianish in March 2018 with Maia Cruz Palileo, Sara Jimenez, and Gabriel de Guzman and becoming an artist member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid-New York, I found myself in a distinct position to present artists thinking through this with me at a gallery I am a part of. I met Sophia at SpringBreak Art Fair in March 2020 when she presented Zac Hacmon and Golnar Adili with a sensitive thoughtfulness that intrigued me to work with her. So I approached her in the summer of 2021 to issue a no-fee open call to the members of Asianish. We imagine that we would need a larger space than TSA to house the big group of artists. I had intended to ask Hanne Tierney of FiveMyles if she might be interested in an exhibition focused on Asian American artists, but she beat us to the punch and had the same idea. Things just sort of fell into place.

Sophia: Exactly, we were so excited that Hanne was on board even without us making a big pitch. We did meet to discuss the theme of “gathering” with Hanne and the other Asianish co-founders, and how we wanted to go about including the artists. At this point in the planning process, we projected that the show will take place in 2023, as we wanted to use 2022 to fundraise and ensure that all artists would be paid to participate. That was really important to Cecile and me. We are so grateful that the Asian Women Giving Circle and the Brooklyn Arts Council agreed with the importance of this project with their generous financial support.

Asianish grew out of an egalitarian ethos, so we agreed early on that we would include everyone who proposed work. Our curation came from selecting the work that spoke to “gathering” in unique ways. We also closed the process at the end of 2021, so that the number of artists would not continue to grow as Asianish continued to increase in size. We had about 100 members at the beginning of 2022, and we are at 163 now.

What will we see?

Cecile: We always thought of the exhibition as one show taking place in two galleries. Never two shows in two galleries. Artists are not presented in both spaces. To understand the scope of the group and of the work, we urge everyone to visit both presentations, in no particular order. Additionally, we were unable to perfectly line up the two openings, but this, fortunately, allows us to comfortably install and open the two spaces in a way that artists in each space can come to the other’s opening. We all love a reason to get together.

Sophia: As the submissions came in, several overlapping subthemes quickly rose that served as our curatorial principle for the show. We wanted to highlight familial, social, and cultural histories and folklore as the basis for connection at TSA, as it has the earlier opening on June 24 at 5 pm. All thirteen works address this theme directly.

Cecile: At FiveMyles’s opening at a somewhat unusual Sunday opening on July 9 at 5:30 pm, we continue these histories and stories while emphasizing the other three subthemes. Artists tap into meditation and self- and community-reflection on COVID feelings and created works that acknowledge and process anti-Asian hate, such as Julia Kwon and Tomo Mori. Other artists like Christina Yuna Ko and Risa Puno dive into domestic objects and the illusion of home life as the gathering point. The last grouping of works features fragmentation and reassembly as the formation of something new in works like Harley Ngai Grieco and Alex Paik.

Sophia: The artists gather to share physical and emotional space through Asianish, a social and artistic AAPI affinity group. The exhibition is a way for the artists to also share intellectual and creative space as well. We hope everyone will see the constellation of thought taking place between the work and the artists. Both TSA and FiveMyles are deeply rooted in their physical contexts in Bushwick and Crown Heights respectively. The show shares the artists’ stories with local residents with a robust slate of programs.

Asianish potluck gathering (photo credit: Sara Jimenez, September 22, 2022)
Sophia Ma (left) and Cecile Chong (right), recording a celebratory message for the Asian Women Giving Circle in thanks for their generosity to the exhibition

Cecile Chong is a visual artist. She was born in Ecuador to Chinese parents and grew up in Quito and Macau. Her public art installation EL DORADO – The New Forty Niners was installed in each of the five boroughs of New York City (2017-2022). Solo exhibitions include Kates-Ferri Projects, Sugar Hill Children’s Museum, Selenas Mountain, ICFAC at Pinta Miami, Smack Mellon, Kenise Barnes Fine Art, BRIC, and more. Chong’s work is in the collections of El Museo del Barrio, the Museum of Chinese in America, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Center for Book Arts, Bryn Mawr Hospital, and Citibank Art Advisory. She has curated exhibitions at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, the Dedalus Foundation, and Emerson Gallery in Berlin, Germany. Chong received an MFA from Parsons, an MA in education from Hunter College, and a BA in Studio Art from Queens College. Chong is currently part of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studio Program and a Tiger Strikes Asteroid NY artist member. She is also part of the College Art Association Services to Artists Committee and is a board member for Art Yard Bklyn and Smack Mellon.

Sophia Ma is an independent curator and writer. Ma completed her master’s in art history and curatorial studies from Hunter College, CUNY, Fall 2020. Her thesis was on the relationship between the work and spiritual practices of the abstract painter Bernice Lee Bing (1936-1998). Ma also curated for Project Art Distribution’s five-year traveling retrospective exhibition of 200 artists and 400 artworks from Walter Elwood Museum to St. John’s University’s Yeh Art Gallery. Her solo projects include the curation of Alison Kuo’s “We Will Meet Again” at Think!Chinatown. She conducted studio visits with the residents of the International Studio & Curatorial Program, Parsons New School, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, and Residency Unlimited. Ma has written for multiple online art publications, including The Brooklyn Rail, Art Papers, Hyperallergic, Art Spiel, Arte Fuse, and White Hot Magazine. Ma currently manages membership and programs for M+ American Friends Foundation.

About Asianish: In March 2018, Sara Jimenez, Maia Cruz Palileo, Gabriel de Guzman, and Cecile Chong formed Asianish. The idea of the group came from their experience after participating in the NYC Creative Salon around the theme of “identity.” The group is interested in informally sharing and discussing the nuanced and complex Asian identities and experiences in the US art world. The group holds space for these hybridized “Asian-ish” identities that are unique and specific to each member. The community continues to grow and recognize each other as a resource for growth, strength, and wisdom. As of May 2023, the group has 163 members.

FiveMyles was founded and incorporated as a non-profit in 1999. Its mission is to advance public interest in innovative experimental work; to identify and exhibit the work of under-represented artists, and to engage the local community through participation in the arts. FiveMyles’ space is entirely wheelchair accessible.

Tiger Strikes Asteroid is a 501c3 non-profit network of independently programmed, artist-run exhibition spaces with locations in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Greenville, SC, founded by Alex Paik in 2009. Its goal is to collectively bring people together, expand connections and create community through artist-initiated exhibitions, projects, and curatorial opportunities.