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Asia Talks: Helen Zughaib with Laila Kazmi

“As an Arab American, I hope through my work, to encourage dialogue and bring understanding and acceptance between the people of the Arab world and the United States. Especially since 9/11, our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the more recent revolutions and crises in the Arab world, resulting from the ‘Arab Spring’ that began in late 2010, have led to the civil war in Syria and the massive displacement of people seeking refuge in Europe, the Middle East and America.”

Helen Zughaib

Watch as Helen Zughaib discusses her family’s experiences in Syria and Lebanon, and her current work including “The Syrian Migration Project,” a painting series inspired by “The Migration Series” by artist Jacob Lawrence. In conversation with Laila Kazmi, Kazbar Media, this talk is part of a series of virtual events hosted by SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas focusing on artists who have immigrated to the US from Asia and the Middle East, on their art, heritage, and coping with the present moment.

Helen Zughaib was born in Beirut, Lebanon, living mostly in the Middle East and Europe before coming to the United States to study art at Syracuse University. She currently lives and works as an artist in Washington, DC. Primarily, she paints in gouache and ink on board and canvas. More recently, she has worked with wood, shoes, and cloth in mixed media installations.

Her work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums in the United States, Europe, and Lebanon. Her paintings are included in many private and public collections, including the White House, World Bank, Library of Congress, American Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Helen has served as Cultural Envoy to Palestine, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.

Muse/News: The Asian Art Museum prepares, art preachers & martyrs, & #DollyPartonChallenge

SAM News

Check out this week’s edition of the International Examiner, with a special section on the Asian Art Museum that reopens on February 8. It includes articles on Be/longing, the building itself, the Gardner Center, the Future Ancient, a know-you-before-you-go for the opening weekend events, and a special thank-you from SAM. Articles on Boundless and the conservation center should hit online tomorrow—see everything in print now.

Farewell, Flesh and Blood. T.s. Flock of Vanguard had one last round-up of “grim highlights” from the exhibition that closed on Sunday. Up next downtown: John Akomfrah: Future History.  

Local News

Seattle Times’ Megan Burbank heads to Twisp to explore the artsy, the sustainable, and the inventive of its communities.

“Preacher of the arts”: Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel interviews Raymond Tymas-Jones, president of Cornish College of the Arts, who has a bold plan for the institution’s future.

Margo also recently visited with the local performers who came together to form the Art Martyrs Relief Society.

“The concept of their endeavor . . . is simple: Put together one show a year with a kickass lineup, pay the performers royally, preach the gospel that working artists deserve a fair wage, have a damn good time and repeat.”

Inter/National News

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle is now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum. Reviews landed from the Washington Post’s Sebastian Smee and the Boston Globe’s Murray Whyte. The exhibition travels to SAM next year.

Barack and Michelle are going on tour! Hyperallergic’s Hakim Bishara reports on the five-city tour of their official portraits by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, which kicks off in June 2021.

Bethan Ryder for the Guardian on projects around the world integrating museums and interactive learning experiences.

“After a long pause a nine-year-old said: ‘Objects have rights.’ The phrase has stuck. It captures both the need to conserve objects and to consider them as active participants in the museum experience.”

And Finally

Museums take the #DollyPartonChallenge. (SAM’s was the best).

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Jueqian Fang

Donor Spotlight: Washington Greater China-Hong Kong Business Association

Entrepreneurs and professionals from Hong Kong founded the Washington Greater China-Hong Kong Business Association (WGHKBA) in 1994. WGHKBA’s core mission involves facilitating business and social interactions to enrich people’s lives who hold similar interests, while also increasing awareness of Greater China and Hong Kong’s contemporary issues. WGHKBA’s vision is to bolster successful transpacific partnerships and economic development between Greater China, Hong Kong, and Washington State.

This year, WGHKBA has graciously chosen the Seattle Asian Art Museum as the beneficiary of their 2020 Chinese New Year Gala. This year’s gala will also honor SAM’s Director Emerita, Mimi Gardner Gates, for her passion for the arts and for her creation of the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas. Each year, WGHKBA’s lunar new year celebration gathers over 900 guests, and this year’s gala includes a Luly Yang runway fashion show, traditional Lion Dance performance, and many other once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The gala will be held at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel on Saturday, February 8, 2020.

WGHKBA’s Chairman, Benjamin Lee, commits countless hours each year to put on this gala. He shares, “The Seattle Asian Art Museum is an organization I admire and respect, so I’m very excited to help support the museum. I always like giving back to Asian-related causes, so we provide a good platform to help our community reach out and support.”            

If you would like to be a part of WGHKBA’s Chinese New Year Gala, please visit the WGHKBA website for ticket and sponsorship information.

Gardner Center goes down the Silk Roads of History

What is it about Silk Roads history and art that interests so many people? In the late 19th century, German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen coined the term ‘Silk Road’ or ‘Silk Routes’ as part of his map-making efforts. After all, better maps of travel routes had commercial value for access to coal or building railroads, for instance. In the early 20th century, several spectacular “discoveries” (ie, new to the West) of magnificent troves of art and manuscripts in Central Asia and western China fueled the fascination.

Courtesy of the Dunhuang Academy, photo: Wu Jian. 

Now the plural ‘Silk Roads’ is used to better describe the many complex historic trade routes through the Eurasian continent. The idea of commercial exchange across a continent that involved interactions of many cultures, languages, religions, and arts can be such an appealing picture of cosmopolitan societies—in contrast to present-day tensions at home and abroad. “Silk Road nostalgia” refers to interpreting this history in the imagination as a time of tolerance and international understanding as well as prosperity, rooted in hope for peaceful and respectful global exchange in future.

The Jewel of Muscat, a reconstructed replica of a ninth century Omani trading ship, sails into the harbour of Galle, 116 km (72 miles) south of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, on April 19, 2010. The ship, built in a traditional design without nails and sewn together with coconut fibers, left Oman on February 15 to re-enact the old trade routes used by Arab traders, with its final port of call in Singapore, according to the organizers of the voyage. AFP PHOTO/ Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI. (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)

The fall Saturday University Lecture Series, Silk Roads Past and Present: From Ancient Afghan Treasure to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, presents current understandings in seven lectures. Beginning with a talk on the Begram Hoard excavated in Afghanistan, we consider how these storerooms from the first century CE could contain Roman glass, Chinese lacquer, and extraordinarily carved ivories from India. A talk on Maritime Silk Roads explores the shipping that actually transported more goods than overland routes, despite the persistent image of camel caravans.

Bodhisattva leading a lady to the Pure Land (detail), Chinese, Tang dynasty, c. 851–900 CE, Hanging scroll, Ink and colors on silk, Height: 80.5 centimetres, Width: 53.8 centimetres, ©️Trustees of the British Museum. 

The Silk Roads also saw the spread of Buddhism, and two speakers explore Buddhist art in China. Two lesser-known religions are introduced in a talk on Zoroastrian and Manichaean arts. And what about silk? Find out about silk and fashion in Tang Dynasty China, as trade made new textile technologies, colors, and patterns available.  The series concludes with a talk on China’s current international initiative also referred to as the New Silk Road. Please join us!

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Image: Mogao Cave 237. Image courtesy of the Dunhuang Academy, photo: Zhang Weiwen. 

Spring Brings Trans Plants to Saturday University Lecture Series

Are you gearing up your garden for spring? Think about plants in all new ways when you attend the Gardner Center’s Spring Saturday University Lecture Series.

Join us for five talks by speakers who think about plants in Asia from different perspectives. First, on March 16, we’ll hear about penjing—the Chinese predecessor to bonsai—plus how and why a Southern Chinese style inspires contemporary bonsai artists across the world. Our speaker Aarin Packard, curator of the Pacific Bonsai Museum, explains how he first became interested in bonsai: “As a kid I was exposed to bonsai by my father and by Mr. Miyagi [from “The Karate Kid”).

Next, on March 30, Jerome Silbergeld will share his art historian’s perspective on Chinese gardens, and what they meant to their creators.

Clearly, bonsai and gardens are both art forms that are constantly changing.  The series continues through April with talks on matsutake mushrooms, eucalyptus plantations, and botanical collecting in the mountains of Yunnan Province in Southwest China—one of the world’s richest places in biodiversity.

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Images: Photo: Pacific Bonsai Museum. Photo: Jerome Silbergeld

Donor Spotlight: Abe Lillard & Julia Kalmus Support Seattle Asian Art Museum

No matter where you’re from, SAM can become your local museum—take it from Abe and Julia. Hailing from Philly and Tennessee, their passion for Asian art got them involved with the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas when they relocated to the Seattle area. They have donated to support the renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum and can’t wait for it to reopen later this year. Learn more about the exciting and expanded programming that the museum will be able to host thanks to the support of donors like these, and how it can connect your life to art!

The importance of Seattle Asian Art Museum to the cultural history of Seattle, really to the entire Pacific Rim, cannot be overstated. Julia and I were both active as board members with the Albuquerque Museum during our time in New Mexico. Julia grew up in Philadelphia and lived in New York City and museums were a large part of her daily activities as a child and also as an adult. I grew up in rural East Tennessee where there were no museums, so we’re both acutely aware of how much value art and cultural museums can add to a community. We just knew that, on moving to Seattle, we would both get involved. After her career as an attorney in New York, Julia obtained an MFA in art history from the University of New Mexico. We’re both students of the Chinese language, which provided our initial draw to the Seattle Asian Art Museum. The highlight of my experience with the museum would have to be the privilege of volunteering with Sarah Loudon at the Gardner Center. Both Julia and I are both quite excited about the reopening of in late 2019.

– Abe Lillard & Julia Kalmus

Donor Spotlight: Shawn Brinsfield Supports the Asian Art Museum

It’s nice to know that our community also thinks the future of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is going to be cool! More than the critical infrastructure updates to the Art Deco building that won’t be very apparent to visitors, there’s the long history of Asian culture in the Seattle area made visible at the museum. To Shawn Brinsfield, the modest expansion on the back of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is a physical commitment to expanding the understanding and appreciation of Asia. Read why the Asian Art Museum matters to this donor, learn more about the project, and stay up to date on the progress of the renovation and expansion of the Asian Art Museum.

The new Seattle Asian Art Museum is going to be very cool with more space for SAM’s growing collection, better flow and open ‘look-throughs’ to the outside. I take art lessons and sometimes they take us to Volunteer Park to draw; so I look forward to sitting on my chair outside near the trees and drawing the new large glass-walled rear addition of the museum. Ok, full disclosure—I am still just learning to draw; but it will be fun viewing Asian Art Museum visitors fishbowl-like.

The average museum-goer may not appreciate the museum’s new sophisticated climate control environment, which gives the art ‘eternal life.’ Sometimes I think about the centuries of artists who made the works inside the museum. What kind of challenges and human pressures did they have? I wonder how they would react, knowing that their year-after-year sweat and toil and evolution as artists would be preserved by loving and meticulous conservationists today. It’s my understanding that the Asian Art Museum will be an important national center of conserving Asian art. And conserving art is actually a fascinating process. Really!

My mom and her family are of Japanese descent. They were living a full life here in Seattle back in the ‘good old days.’ Grandma Benko Itoi wrote tanka poetry, the family attended art events at the Nippon Kan Theater, they danced in traditional ways at the Bon Odori. Then when World War II broke out they were compelled to destroy most things related to their Japanese culture. So, 75 years later, it’s important to me to support the expansion of Japanese and Asian culture in the Seattle area.

All the art at the Asian Art Museum tells stories of history, ideas, and ways of life. In addition to enjoying the exhibitions on wooden block prints, folding screens, and Chinese scrolls, I have loved going to the Gardner Center’s Saturday University Lecture Series and listening to experts from all over the world. I value this, especially since I help recruit speakers for an Asian art and history group in Florida.

As for the future of the Asian Art Museum, I expect that the Asian Art Museum’s growth will mirror that of Asia’s increasing presence on the world stage. I hope that it continues expanding its collection of South Asian art and continues reaching out to the growing South Asian community here in the Northwest; as well as reaching out to the non-Asian community. My spending time in India on several trips has had a significant impact on my mind and behavior. I include, in my daily life, some practices and rituals which are indigenous to India and South Asia. I have a warm and friendly feeling towards the people and culture of South Asia.

– Shawn Brinsfield

Get Worldly with The Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project

Catch The Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project playing a free concert outdoors as the first musical act in our World Music Series. Throughout the summer months SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents four free concerts in the Volunteer Park Amphitheater that bring music from all over the world to Seattle. Find out more about the female-focused music group and mark your calendars for their performance, July 13!

The sounds of steel pan music enliven a summer evening outdoors! Originally from Trinidad, the steel pan is a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of the descendants of slaves brought to the Caribbean from Africa who created this instrument from oil drums and other discarded metal containers. Steel pan can now be found all over the world and captivates the hearts of all those lucky enough to get a chance to play it.

Michael Shantz and I formed The Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project (SWSPP) in 2013 as a collaboration. The project started as a weekly beginner steel pan class and within the first year students performed at the Women Who Rock UnConference in Seattle’s Washington Hall. Since then, over 100 women have taken classes and, of that, at least 20 have played in the performance group.

The performance group consists of women with an array of musical backgrounds. Some pan players such as Ceda Clemmons and Miho Takekawa have been playing steel pan for over 20 years, while many others had never played with a musical ensemble before joining SWSPP. The beauty of steel pan is that it’s a highly accessible instrument, you can come into class having had no prior experience playing an instrument and leave being able to play a song as an ensemble 4-6 weeks later, which is the typical duration of the beginner class series. The mission of SWSPP is to give women and girls the opportunity to experience the energy and joy that playing music gives us. The music scene tends to be heavily dominated by male musicians—a boys club of sorts. This project gives women an opportunity to enter the arena of musical performance in a fun and accessible way.

Tashie LeMaitre says of her experience as a group member, “Being a part of this project has been like joining another family. I’ve learned so much since I started playing with The Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project and have seen so many new places that I might never have gotten the chance to see. I’ve always loved pan, but have since fallen in love with it even more. I look forward to what the future holds for us.”

SWSPP frequently collaborates with other seasoned musicians in Seattle, both female and male, for larger shows and productions. Ann Reynolds, Marina Albero, Obe Quarless, Makala Romero, Otieno Terry, Adriana Giordano, Teo Shantz  and Kate Olson are just a few of the local musicians with whom the group has partnered. You can catch the group performing on stages all throughout King County!

– Oriana Estrada, Administrative Director, Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project

Photo: Courtesy of The Women’s steel Pan Project.