Reframing South Asian Art: Virtual Panel with Mithu Sen and Bani Abidi

In celebration of the opening of Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, SAM’s Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, Natalia Di Pietrantonio, sat down with contemporary artists Mithu Sen and Bani Abidi to discuss their artistic processes and involvement in the exhibition. Both Sen and Abidi explore themes of gender stereotypes, structures of power, and self-representation while reflecting on their South Asian heritage.

With their artworks in Embodied Change, each of these international artists seek to capture ephemeral gestures of the body. This virtual panel begins with an overview and introduction by Di Pietrantonio followed by a presentation from each of the artists on their artistic practices. The video concludes with a Q & A moderated by Di Pietrantonio.

Visit the Asian Art Museum between 10 am and 5 pm on Friday, March 25 for a day of free art activities and artist interactions including an artist talk with Humaira Abid, a Bharatnatyam and Kathak dance performance by South Asian art collective Pratidhwani, and a take-away Madhubani painting activity designed by artist Deepti Agrawal.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Objects of the Week: Cage-Corset and New Clothes for the Emperor

No matter where I encounter them, Naiza Khan’s artworks always transport me back to a classroom on the campus of SOAS, University of London. It was in one such space where I had the privilege of hearing the artist speak about her series Henna Hands and The Skin She Wears—both deeply connected to Cage-Corset (2007) and New Clothes for the Emperor (2009), currently on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum as part of the exhibition Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time.

Embodied Change at Seattle Asian Art Museum

These works and series illustrate Khan’s preoccupations with the female body. In thinking through the function of attire as a construct, Cage-Corset and New Clothes for the Emperor present clothing as a strategy to discuss gender. This is all the more relevant placed within the context of the back-and-forth between feminist activism and Islamicization in Pakistan that began in the 1960s and 70s, and gained much greater traction in the 1980s. As scholar Iftikhar Dadi has noted, in Khan’s works “the female body finally becomes visible in modern South Asian “Islamic” art as a subject itself, rather than simply remaining a decorative motif.”[1]

Part of her Heavenly Ornaments series, in which Khan turned to metal to fabricate armor, corsets, chastity belts and lingerie, Cage-Corset and New Clothes for the Emperor highlight the artist’s engagement with the Bihishti Zewar, an Urdu text written by the Islamic scholar and Sufi Ashraf Ali Thanawi. Written in the beginning of the twentieth century, the text prescribes morals and behaviors pertinent to young Muslim women and girls. Noteworthy, the Bihishti Zewar was written with state and social reform in mind. It posited that Muslim women were capable of becoming educated and moral actors just as equally as men. Thus, the Bihishti Zewar paradoxically asked, why should women conform to the authority of men or the state?

Through her artworks, Khan also references the presence/absence of women within the public sphere, particularly in the context of the roll-back of numerous rights for Pakistani women under the Zia regime of the late 1970s and 80s. Despite these retrogressions, huge numbers of women entered both the formal and informal labor sectors, and the applications of female students to higher educational institutes significantly increased. While the Zia regime attempted to control the presence of women in the public sphere, it inadvertently brought attention to the emergence of the publicly visible female body as an issue that could not simply be “rolled back.” In other works, Khan, unlike women artists before her, made use of the calligraphic form that was purported by the state as within the line of its official policy. Thus, Khan’s artworks demonstrate that simply opposing any state sanctioned idioms and logics are not enough to ensure the freedom of women.

Khan’s Cage-Corset and New Clothes for the Emperor demonstrate the entanglement of social, political, religious, and spatial relations that inform questions of subjectivity, freedom, and control imposed upon females. Then, as a starry-eyed master’s student, as now, the quiet subtlety of Khan’s artworks ring true. The artist does not simply claim her works as agents of freedom for those living under repressive regimes, but rather, brings attention to the ways in which such systems and its mechanisms, just like her corsets, are constructed, negotiated and navigated.

– Ananya Sikand, PhD Candidate, University of Washington


[1] Iftikhar Dadi, Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press), 2010, 198.

Images: Cage-corset, 2007, Naiza Khan, Metal and fabric, 11 13/16 x 11 13/16 x 11 13/16 in., Purchased with funds from Dipti and Rakesh Mathur, 2022.1.1, Ⓒ Artist or Artist’s Estate. Installation view of Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time at Seattle Asian Art Museum, 2021, photo: Natali Wiseman. New Clothes for the Emperor (II), 2009, Naiza Khan, Black & white digital photograph on archival Canson Infinity paper, 33 x 22 1/2 in., Purchased with funds from Dipti and Rakesh Mathur, 2022.1.2, Ⓒ Artist or Artist’s Estate.

#SAMSnippets: Embodied Change

Welcome back to #SAMSnippets! In this live series on our Instagram you get an up-close look at works in SAM’s permanent and semi-permanent installations. Each month, we choose a new gallery to walk through, offering you art appreciation wherever you may be!

In January, we featured a diverse collection of artworks from Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time. The first special exhibition to open in the remodeled and renovated Seattle Asian Art Museum, the featured works explore social, political, and religious perceptions of humanity and the human body through the lens of past and contemporary South Asian artists. Many of them utilize female and feminized forms in a myriad of ways, including as a devotional object, as a mode of self-representation, and to question the safety of public spaces. Watch the video now to get a peek at what’s on view at the Asian Art Museum now and learn more about the works shown below. Get your tickets now to see the entire exhibition before it closes on July 10!

Photo: Natali Wiseman

The tour begins with a look at Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s Kali (I’m a Mess). For more than 30 years, Burman has used a variety of mixed media to advocate for female empowerment, racial equity, and her Punjabi heritage. Kali (I’m a Mess) was a part of Burman’s recent installation titled Remembering A Brave New World, superimposed over the Tate Britain’s entrance. Perched atop the building’s pediment, the Hindu goddess of destruction and protection obfuscated the statue of Britannia. The text above Kali reads, “I’m a Mess,” a message usually not associated with Kali. Burman takes Kali seriously as a potent symbol of liberation and rebellion and uses this text to speak to political and social concerns that occurred in 2020. Kali (I’m a Mess) is one of a few works in Embodied Change which was acquired into SAM’s permanent collection as a result of being included in this exhibition.

As we enter the exhibition, the camera pans across five earthenware and clay terracotta figures. Originating from the Indus Valley civilization in modern day India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, these works date back to 2600–1900 BCE. Archaeological digs in the area have revealed numerous small, female figures, usually sculpted with wide hips, small breasts, stocky appendages, and abundant jewelry. Early scholars deified these figures as “mother goddesses” (a manifestation of Devi), creating a tie between past religious beliefs and present-day Hindu practitioners. This interpretation has been reevaluated, questioning whether these items were truly representative of religiosity. Their meaning remains a mystery but the near absence of male figures suggest the body held significant importance.

Next, we see two photographs by Brendan Fernandes: As One III and As One IX. Fernandes is Canadian of Kenyan and Goan (South Asian) descent, and his last name evokes the complex circuits of exchanges between the Portuguese colonial apparatus and western India. In his work, Fernandes is invested in bodies that move, showing that the human body has a range of permutations, meanings, and identities. The artist and his practices does not hold a fixed identity or a singular idea of Europe, Africa, or India. Overall, he envisions “a different process of communication,” one that is body-driven.

These two photographs were created locally. Fernandes used dancers from the Pacific Northwest Ballet in the auditorium of the Seattle Art Museum alongside African masks from SAM’s permanent collection. Using gestures derived from classical French ballet, the two dancers address the African masks with formality and etiquette. Compositionally, the dancers’ heads are hidden, which allows for the masks to stand in for the dancers’ missing faces. Through such juxtapositions, Fernandes forges a bridge between the inanimate and the animate.

Adeela Suleman’s Helmet is part of a series repurposing kitchen objects. Made from utensils including a colander and tiffin (lunch box), the form is gendered as it uses objects typically located in the interior space of the kitchen, often associated with female domesticity. In performance photographs, Suleman dons these helmets, suggesting that women need special armor in their day-to-day movement in the public arena. The rigid and hard helmets provide little real protection. One wonders how much protection Suleman wants her pieces to afford; she seems to gesture to the futility of such an attempt.

Photo: Natali Wiseman

In a glass pedestal adjacent to Suleman’s Helmet, we see Humaira Abid’s Sacred Games-I. Made entirely out of wood, the open suitcase contains clothes, a holy book, a cap, and prayer beads, all the possessions of a religious practitioner who is undertaking a spiritual journey. The gun that is placed alongside the belongings symbolizes both religious extremism and violence toward religion, including attacks on mosques, churches, and other religious buildings. In the artists’s own words, “all societies have extremists who twist religion as well as other social institutions and use it to their own benefit, to oppress women and vulnerable and defenseless people.”

The final section of the video is focused on portraits. Here, the featured artists use the theme of portraiture to challenge bodily ideals and the role of the female body in the arts.

The first portrait we see is B. Prabha’s Untitled. Active in the 1960s when there were few professional female artists, her trademark was elongated figures of rural women with a subdued color palette. Hailing from the small Indian village of Bela, near Nagpur, India, Prabha gravitated to rural village scenes. She painted lower caste women at work and at leisure. In this portrait, the unknown woman rests her back against a tree as she enjoys the company of a bird. Although Prabha typically depicted the silent labor of rural women to show their plight and suffering, she also endeavored to give them grace and personhood by depicting them enjoying moments of rest.

The camera next pans two works by Chila Kumari Singh Burman: Auto-Portrait, from Fly Girl series and Punjabi Rockers. In this first large collage work, Burman distorts her portrait through a range of different guises and manipulations. Her face is stretched, magnified, compressed, and painted with bright colors. Through the act of repetition and the reproduction of the print form, Burman crafts new personas, enacting fantasies of the self as the goddess Kali and as pop icons. As Burman explains, “These self portraits position the construction of racial and sexual identity as a process that is crafted and fluid within the process of representation. My manipulation of the photographic image questions the idea of the photograph as a document of the empirical reality to reveal ‘an image of myself.'” In other words, Burman resists a singular identity. Through the act of printmaking, she can reconstruct multivalent identities for herself.

Photo: Natali Wiseman

In Punjabi Rockers, Burman, a member of the British Black Arts Movement, mines both South Asian histories and pop culture to overwhelm and challenge Euro-American perceptions of South Asian women. She has declared, “My work is about reclaiming the image of Asian women, moving away from the object of the defining gaze, toward a position where I, [an] Asian woman, become the subject of display. My self-portraits construct a femininity that resists the racist stereotype of the passive, exotic Asian woman, imprisoned by male patriarchal culture.” Together, these two prints burst forth with levity and joy to convey Burman’s political message of empowerment.

We then see Rekha Rodwittiya’s Untitled. Consistently, Rodwittiya paints female figures with vibrant, bold colors. The scale of her portraits tends to be quite monumental to celebrate the female form. Even in such large compositions, a sense of intimacy is present. In this canvas, a local schoolgirl shows off her spinning top. With her content smile, she is both anonymous and knowable. Regarding her practice, Rodwittiya states, “I live and breathe as a feminist so therefore that is the prism through which I perceive everything around me, and so therefore it would patina my art as well.”

The final work in the video is Mithu Sen’s Miss Macho (Self Portrait), from the False Friends series. Sen paints a mustache on her self-portrait along with overgrown floral vines in her hair and a phallic building on the bridge of her nose. Consistently throughout her practice, Sen applies a confrontational approach to topics related to the body, including sex. This work is part of the series called False Friends, in which Sen asked strangers to take photographs of her. According to Sen, during her childhood, she was considered the “literal black sheep” of her family since she was visibly darker-skinned than her light-skinned female family members. Here, Sen’s face occupies the entire canvas, making space for herself in her social and professional world. Her gaze is both otherworldly and visceral.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Video Artworks: Kali (I’m a Mess), Chila Kumari Singh Burman, 2020, 6mm 12v silicone LED neon, galvanized weld mesh, 12v switch mode transformers, IP67 plastic box, 137 13/16 x 70 7/8 × 1 3/16 in. (180 × 35 × 3 cm), Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Acquisition Fund for Global and Contemporary Art, 2021.25. Goddess Figurine, India, Earthenware, 2300–1750 BCE, Earthenware, 4 3/8 x 1 3/4 x 11/16 in. (11.11 x 4.45 x 1.75 cm), Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 41.23. Half Figure of a Goddess, India, Earthenware, 2300–1750 BCE, Earthenware, 2 3/4 x 3 x 1 in. (6.99 x 7.62 x 2.54 cm), Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 41.24. Fragmentary Figure, India, Terracotta, ca. 3rd millennium BCE–2nd century CE, Terracotta, 7 1/2 x 2 5/8 x 2 in. (19.05 x 6.67 x 5.08 cm), Gift in honor of Millard B. Rogers, 93.31. Fragmentary Figure, India, Terracotta, ca. 2nd–1st century BCE, Terracotta, 3 7/8 x 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (9.84 x 6.35 x 3.81 cm) Overall h.: 4 3/4 in. Overall w.: 2 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 39.36. Fragmentary Figure, India, Terracotta, ca. 3rd millennium BCE–2nd century CE, Terracotta, 4 1/8 x 1 3/4 x 3/4 in. (10.48 x 4.45 x 1.91 cm), Gift in honor of Millard B. Rogers, 93.32. As One III, Brendan Fernandes, 2017, Digital print, 34 x 48 in., Gift of Christopher and Alida Latham, 2019.27.1. As One IX, Brendan Fernandes, 2017, Digital print, 34 x 48 in., Gift of Christopher and Alida Latham, 2019.27.2. Helmet, Adeela Suleman, 2008, Metal with foam and cloth, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. Sacred Games-1, Humaira Abid, 2020, Carved pine and wenge woods, Collection of Christopher and Alida Lantham. Untitled, B. Prabha, ca. 1960s, Oil on canvas, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. Auto-Portrait, from Fly Girl series, Chila Kumari Singh Burman, 1993, Mixed media and laser printer, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. Punjabi Rockers, Chila Kumari Singh Burman, 1993, Mixed media and laser printer, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. Untitled, Rekha Rodwittiya, ca. 1990s, Acrylic and oil on canvas, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. Miss Macho (Self Portrait), from the False Friends series, Mithu Sen, 2007, Mixed media photocollage on archival paper, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan.

Muse/News: Gods & Bods, Remover Art, and Maus Banned

SAM News

“Gods, bods, and power at Seattle Asian Art Museum”: Here’s Crosscut’s Brangien Davis on Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time.

“When I visited the show last weekend, I was thrilled to learn about contemporary artists who were entirely new to me.”

And Seattle Met’s Allecia Vermillion names the “best new restaurants: takeout edition,” including SAM’s new spot, Market Seattle, the second location of the beloved Edmonds restaurant.

“…this Market sits inside Seattle Art Museum, where you can now tear into a fried soft-shell crab in a bag amid ample lights and white-backdrop gallery vibes.”

Local News

Lunar New Year festivities in the region kicked off on Saturday; Seattle Times’ Vonnai Phair has a round-up of all the ways to welcome the Year of the Tiger.

The Locals Going to the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 2022”: Malia Alexander for Seattle Met with all the local names to cheer on.

The Stranger’s Chase Burns catches up on Sundance flicks; Matt McCormick’s short 2002 film the subconscious art of graffiti removal, narrated by Miranda July, is the one that sticks with him.

“The relationship between tagger and remover is an ongoing one. Often, a remover will cover an original tag, only for the tagger to return and tag on top of the remover’s masking. This back-and-forth can continue for years, with the remover coming back and using different shades of paint, creating a layered, more colorful image. This can be accidentally beautiful.”

Inter/National News

If you’re still loving jigsaw puzzles, the at-home hobby that swept the world during the pandemic, Culture Type has a round-up of puzzles featuring the work of celebrated Black artists, including Jacob Lawrence, Derrick Adams, and Faith Ringgold.

Tessa Soloman for ARTnews on a coyote-man sculpture discovered years ago in Tacámbaro, an area in central Mexico, which archeologists are now studying. They believe the sculpture may represent a dynasty that once ruled the area.

Artnet reports: Art Spiegelman has spoken out about the banning of his Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus by a Tennessee school board.

“The district’s decision to censor the book, because it said the material was inappropriate for students, ‘has the breathe of autocracy and fascism about it,’ Spiegelman told CNN.”

And Finally

On Artnet’s podcast: “The Nazis Stole Her Family’s Art. Here’s How She Got It Back.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Kali (I’m a Mess)

Colorful, riotous, and vibrant are but three words that come to mind when thinking about Dr. Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s neon artworks. Burman’s neon lights first appeared on the Tate Britain’s façade in 2020 for her commission Remembering a Brave New World, which disrupted the neoclassical building’s exterior with a roar of color. Her installation was awarded the 2021 Dezeen Award for Design of the Year.1

Photo: © Tate 2020/Joe Humphrys.

The artist traces her love for neon to childhood visits to Blackpool, a seaside resort known for its annual lights festival. While traditional glass neon lights were not conducive to achieving the shapes and structures that Burman wanted, new developments in the medium allowed her to bend and shape silicon neon lights to create complex and multi-colored sculptures. Some of her signature works include pouncing tigers, images of Hindu deities, uplifting quotes, and her father’s ice cream van. Burman’s Tate Britain installation was unveiled in time for Diwali, the South Asian festival of lights, but also in the midst of the global Black Lives Matter movement and raging COVID-19 pandemic.

With all of this in mind, Burman communicated an uplifting message, but, more importantly, highlighted the significant role and contributions of Black and Asian British artists in the United Kingdom. Burman has also noted that the neon works are an extension of her previous practice, stating, “paradoxically, [the installation’s] concerns are the same themes I explored back in the 80s along with my colleagues in the Black British Arts Movement [that] are still so prevalent today…”

“It’s undeniable that the Tate Britain commission I was awarded was finally a step in the right direction, in acknowledging the significance of my work and practice—as well as the significant contributions of my contemporaries—that have, to be frank, been overlooked for so long,” Burman said. “In doing so, Tate have sought to re-address the biases and hypocrisy often prevalent in both our British art establishments and the wider art sector. This shift, inevitably signifies a slow erosion of the inequalities prevalent in the art world.”

“That being said,” she continued, “I saw my selection for this commission not as a final step in this process of erosion but as a beginning. I was adamant, therefore, that my commission serve as an opportunity to critique the role of the Tate—and by extension all of our British establishments—in much the same way as I have done throughout my practice.” 

SAM acquired one of Burman’s neon works, Kali (I’m a Mess) with funds from the Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Acquisition Fund for Global and Contemporary Art, and additional support from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Previously perched atop the Tate Britain’s pediment, obscuring the statue of Britannia, the piece will be on view in the upcoming exhibition, Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time, opening January 14 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.2

Kali (I’m a Mess) brings both a disruptive and inclusive message of liberation and rebellion. Through this artwork, Burman asks: Can Kali fast forward us into a brave new world where we will no longer be in a mess?

Ananya Sikand, PhD Candidate, University of Washington

The author wishes to thank the artist, Dr. Chila Kumari Singh Burman, as well as the artist’s studio team, especially Kemi Sanbe, for kindly providing answers to interview questions. Thanks also to Dr. Natalia Di Pietrantonio, SAM’s Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, for providing the opportunity to write this blog post.


1 https://www.dezeen.com/awards/2021/winners/remembering-a-brave-new-world/#

2 Britannia is the embodiment of Britain in female form as a symbol of British national pride and unity, but also, more troublingly, a long-lasting symbol of colonialism, extraction, and violence.

Image: Kali (I’m a Mess), 2020, Chila Kumari Burman, 6mm 12v silicone LED neon, galvanized weld mesh, 12v switch mode transformers, IP67 plastic box, 137 13/16 x 70 7/8 × 1 3/16 in., Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Acquisition Fund for Global and Contemporary Art, 2021.25 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

Seattle Asian Art Museum: Japanese Collection Tour

The recent restoration and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum presented a special opportunity to completely redesign and reinstall the museum’s galleries. For the inaugural installation, Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, SAM’s Asian art curators collaborated to select outstanding artworks which showcase some of SAM’s most significant holdings of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and South Asian art.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation, we were able to record a dedicated tour of the Japanese masterworks featured in the museum. Xiaojin Wu, Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation Curator of Japanese & Korean Art, leads this tour, which provides a close look at more than a dozen artworks ranging from a new site-specific contemporary installation to ancient works, including several on view in the Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Galleries.

Xiaojin welcomes us to the museum under Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn’s Gather, the site-specific light sculpture hanging in the Garden Court, and which metaphorically gathers energy from Isamu Noguchi’s The Black Sun, a sculpture sitting outside the museum.

As she makes her way through the galleries, Xiaojin points out a 10th-century sculpture of Tobatsu Bishamonten, a Buddhist guardian figure. Bishamonten stands on the shoulders of Jiten, the earth goddess, in a representation that takes its form from Shinto sculptures. In a gallery focused on sites of worship, Xiaojin discusses the 18th-century screen, View of Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji serves as one of the most significant sites for Buddhist and Shinto pilgrimage in Japan, and this beautiful work paints Mt. Fuji from a famous viewpoint in Miho’s pine forest.

Photo: Elizabeth Mann

An integral element of the reinstallation was the decision to organize galleries by theme rather than by country of origin. One telling example can be found in one of our unique vaulted ceiling galleries: a 12th-century Japanese scroll of the Lotus Sutra is placed beside a page of a blue Quran from Tunisia. These works refer to two very different religions, but both use similar materials: gold and silver on indigo dyed paper or parchment. Placed beside one another, their shared visual quality creates an intriguing juxtaposition.

Near the end of the tour, Xiaojin directs our attention to a work acquired by Seattle Art Museum’s founder Richard Fuller. Inspired by a haniwa warrior on view in Treasures of Japan, an exhibition SAM hosted in 1960, and a designated national treasure in the Tokyo National Museum’s collection, Dr. Fuller acquired a similar haniwa for the museum the following year. He proudly called the Seattle haniwa “the brother of the Tokyo haniwa,” as they were excavated at the same time in the 1930s and from the same place in Ōta city, Gunma Prefecture.

Dr. Fuller and Crown Princess Michiko pose in front of the Seattle Art Museum © Seattle Art Museum.

SAM’s collection of Japanese art is one of the finest outside of Japan and one of the top ten in the United States. The 3,400 objects within the collection include significant examples of painting, sculpture, lacquerware, and folk textiles. Thank you to the Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation for making it possible for us to create this video tour which allows SAM to better share this incredible collection of Japanese art with not only museum members and local audiences, but with the larger community and art-enthusiasts from across the globe as well. Visit the Seattle Asian Art Museum now to see all the amazing artworks featured in this video.

– Sarah Michael, SAM Director of Institutional Giving

Back to School with New Eyes on Asia Educator Resources

Returning to school for K–12 students and educators not only means the beginning of a new school year, but also returning to in-person classrooms, in many cases. Around this time last year, the School & Educators team at SAM was working closely with our school and community partners on modifying the resources that had been created for the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s 2020 reopening, which were designed for in-person groups at the museum or in the classroom. In the following months, those programs pivoted from an in-person museum visit with related educator resources to a guided virtual experience featuring interactive Eyes on Asia videos.

Throughout the development of Asian art educational resources, we have consistently sought the input of those whose work is closest to youth and families. When the prospect of a fully remote 2020–21 school year became clear, we surveyed the educators that had been involved in our school partnerships for their insights on how best to meet the needs of students without high-speed internet, specialized art supplies, and/or the capacity to regularly attend online classes. Based on their feedback, we began developing Asian art resources that could be used in a virtual classroom or on their own. Instead of providing information on many artworks, we created differentiated ways to explore one object. In this way, an educator would be able to facilitate a sense of shared learning among students, even if they were not following the exact same steps.

SAM staff prepare to shoot a scene from the Eyes on Asia video series.

Working with local videographer Ellison Shieh, the School & Educators team shot three videos in October 2020. Ellison’s experience at the intersection of documentary filmmaking and historical preservation, as seen in their work on “Chinatown-International District: Bush Garden” in #VanishingSeattle’s award-winning series, was incredibly helpful in cultivating a space of learning in the Eyes on Asia videos. In the coming months, we shared these videos and related resources with educators across many school districts, including Seattle Public Schools and Highline Public Schools. Not only was it a joy to see students engaging with SAM’s Asian art collection in a new way, but educators provided feedback as well. In a focus group with educators that used these videos in their classrooms during the 2020–21 school year, participants shared their thoughts on the importance of student engagement and creative responses:

“The [activity] was just cool. They were super excited about it and like, ‘Do we get to work on this again tomorrow?’”

“I’m always looking for projects that have that balance of structure to help them build skills and then having it be really creative. It fit really well with that . . . . And I loved it because it shows that they are thinking about what is inspiring for them and what will help them be really creative.”

“I’ve been really trying to have a lot of local artists and artists from diverse backgrounds who are currently working that my kids can connect with because they just love to see young, active working artists that look like them. . . . That’s something that I know I would love to get more of.”

In May 2021, after integrating educator feedback, we shot a second round of videos with Ellison. For this second round, SAM invited teaching artist Amina Quraishi to design and lead art activities inspired by works of art on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. In Amina’s activity, she reflects on how Islamic artists in the past have been inspired by the natural world around them. Creating a pattern based on Palampore (bed covering), she reminds us that the process is as important as the product when creating art.

While remote classrooms have now transitioned to hybrid or in-person, we hope that all the Eyes on Asia videos will help educators integrate a strengths-based approach with students, emphasizing their resilience and creativity over the past eighteen months. During this past year, we learned that teachers can adapt interactive video content in their classrooms, looking at works of art in SAM’s collection with their students before or after a future museum visit. With a specific focus on BIPOC artists and cultures underrepresented in our current offerings, we aim to continue improving our work toward community involvement and youth-led learning.

Watch all of SAM’s Eyes on Asia videos on YouTube.

– Yaoyao Liu, Museum Educator, Seattle Asian Art Museum

Yaoyao develops K-12 programs and resources related to other works of contemporary Asian art at SAM.

Images: Robert Wade. Yaoyao Liu.

Object of the Week: Flower Ball

During his time in New York in 1994, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami developed a style of art he describes as “East-meets-West” or “high-meets-low.”[1] Featuring bright colors and a vivid style that is ingenious in its simplicity, Murakami quickly became a renowned contemporary artist, collaborating with prominent cultural figures such as Kanye West and Pharell Williams.

Flower Ball speaks to the beauty of individuality and diversity. Each flower is unique in its colorations and size, situated harmoniously to create the illusion of a three-dimensional ball. The smiling, emoji-like faces at the center of each flower embody a sense of joy and innocence, and have become one of Murakami’s most featured motifs.

Murakami has become increasingly concerned with using his joyful artwork to balance out what he sees as sorrow or tragedy associated with minority groups in America.[2] This topic is a personal one for Murakami, based on his own experiences as an outsider in New York. The prominence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in response to anti-Black violence has also had an impact on Murakami’s artistic motivations. His simple pop-art images, bold and effervescent, attempt to offer an equilibrium to sadness, highlighting the joy and beauty of diversity. “If my art can effect any change here and now,” Murakami explains, “I want to contribute it not only to give back but to give power to the Black community plagued by the racial injustice.”[3]

This discussion regarding the necessity of celebration and inclusion in the face of tragedy and exclusion is more essential than ever in the current climate of not only the BLM movement, but the recent violence towards Asian Americans as well. The divisiveness and inequities revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic and continued racial discrimination have created unsafe spaces for many groups, with countless instances of vitriol and violence.

Works like Flower Ball remind us that differences between individuals are beautiful and vital––a concept embodied in the diversity of each iconic flower situated together in harmony. As a global art museum, SAM promotes the voices of Black, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), Latinx, immigrant communities, minority groups, and all other diverse actors who contribute to the beauty of art, media, culture, and society here in America and across the globe.

– Caitlin Sherman, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art


[1] https://hbr.org/2021/03/lifes-work-an-interview-with-takashi-murakami
[2] https://hbr.org/2021/03/lifes-work-an-interview-with-takashi-murakami
[3] https://www.instagram.com/p/CBPI4YRl5gB/?utm_source=ig_embed&ig_rid=f0315211-5e0c-4448-87b3-76a3475193a6
Image: Flower Ball, 2002, Takashi Murakami, acrylic on canvas, 98 1/2 in., Gift of Richard and Elizabeth Hedreen, 2016.24.1 2002 © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Photo: Jueqian Fang

Masterpiece Moments: Five Beautiful Women by Hokusai

Did you know that you can experience art by the famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai at the Seattle Asian Art Museum? Learn all about Hokusai’s Five Beautiful Women, guided by Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO Amada Cruz. A household name in Japan and known widely worldwide, Hokusai is well regarded for his iconic prints of the Great Wave and Red Fuji. Hokusai enjoyed a prolific 70 year career, during which he created an estimated tens of thousands of woodblock prints. His creative energy and genius can also be found in his paintings, which unlike prints, were not produced in multiples and are more rare, such as this work in our collection.

SAM was selected to participate in the Bank of America ‘Masterpiece Moment’ program—a new series of videos that showcase works of art in the collections of 25 museum partners across the United States. For more than three decades, Bank of America has generously supported a variety of programs at SAM. The Art Conservation program is one major initiative that most recently helped restore Alexander Calder’s The Eagle at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Additionally, the Museums on Us program supports SAM’s ongoing operations and gives their cardholders special access to SAM.

Painted in 1810, Five Beautiful Women features women of different social backgrounds in an intriguing hierarchy and differentiated by their clothing. The garments and accessories prompt us to consider clothing and its relationship to our identity. At the top, a woman in a kimono decorated with an iris design and lavish obi sash is from a high-ranking warrior family. Below her, a young woman from a wealthy merchant family wears a shibori tie-dyed kimono and is practicing flower arrangement. In a black kimono with floral designs and butterfly-shaped hat, the woman in the middle is a lady-in-waiting in the residence of a shogun or daimyo, a Japanese feudal lord. A high-class courtesan, identified by her front-tied obi with a peacock feather pattern, is below her. Anchoring the work is a women in a simple brown kimono wearing a checkered obi sash and she reclines on the floor reading a book. Some scholars suggest she is a widow because of her plucked eyebrows and somber colored robes.

Bank of America recognizes the power of the arts to help economies thrive, educate and enrich societies, and create greater cultural understanding. The Masterpiece Moment program was launched to both celebrate great works of art and provide critical funding for museums across the country, including SAM, during a very difficult time. We are deeply grateful to Bank of America for their incredible support of SAM. Learn more about this wonderful Hokusai work in SAM’s collection by visiting the Masterpiece Moment website. New videos are released every other Monday, and we hope you’ll follow along!

Muse/News: Issei & Nisei Art, Breakthrough Moments, and Lightweight Minimalism

SAM News

Japanese-language site Jungle City highlights Northwest Modernism at SAM, an installation featuring work by four legendary Japanese American artists of Seattle: Kenjiro Nomura, Kamekichi Tokita, Paul Horiuchi, and George Tsutakawa.

Architectural Digest includes the Olympic Sculpture Park on their list of the “6 Best Public Sculpture Parks to Visit This Spring and Summer.”

Nicole Pasia for the Seattle Times with recommendations for celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, including the reopening of the Seattle Asian Art Museum on May 28.

Local News

“Part satire, part pop art hallucination”: Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne on MS PAM, the street-level expansion of Martyr Sauce, Tariqa Waters’s Pioneer Square gallery.

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig reports on Murmurations, a collaboration of six cultural institutions—Jacob Lawrence Gallery, Henry Art Gallery, On the Boards, Northwest Film Forum, Frye Art Museum, and Velocity Dance Center—with projects happening all summer.

Also in the Stranger: Chase Burns on the breakthrough moment for artist Drie Chapek, whose paintings and collages are now on view at the Greg Kucera Gallery.

“The breakthrough moment happened after Chapek picked up painting again in 2016, when a gallerist who presented her work in Edison, Washington, suggested she talk to the gallerist’s friend in Seattle named Greg. That Greg was Greg Kucera. When Kucera came to Chapek’s studio, “He was like, ‘Why haven’t you ever contacted me?’” She broke out laughing as she told the story. “I was like, ‘Check your email, dude.’”

Inter/National News

“Who doesn’t love a great find?” asks Menachem Wecker for Artnet, as he ranks seven of the greatest lost-art discoveries.

Jenna Wortham for the New York Times Magazine on the “glamour in the quotidian” of Deana Lawson’s photographs of Black people.

Alex Greenberger for Art in America on Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “lightweight minimalism.”

“Amid it all is an acute sense of loss, though it’s intentionally ambiguous who—or what—is no longer present. How viewers make sense of it all depends on their knowledge of world history and Gonzalez-Torres’s biography, as well as their own identity.”

And Finally

Best friends reunite, visit anthropomorphic deer statues, and talk.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Nina Dubinsky

Object of the Week: Lined Robe

This show-stopping bingata robe comes from Okinawa, the southernmost islands of Japan. With brilliant colors and a rhythmic pattern of cherry blossoms, swallows, irises, and flowing water, it is descended from an important textile tradition. See if you can spot it during your next visit to the Asian Art Museum, which reopens to the public at the end of May.

Bingata textiles are created with a paste-resist technique using either stencils or freehand motifs. The name refers to this process, not to the fiber or weave of the textile itself. This bingata robe is made of silk, but cotton and ramie were also used as a base. In paste-resist dyeing, a thick, water-soluble paste is applied to a textile in order to keep pigment or dye from coloring selected areas. For bingata, this paste is traditionally made from a cooked rice flour mixture. When the paste is dry, multiple layers of pigment are then brushed onto the open areas with thick, short brushes. Once the pigment has dried, the resist paste is washed away but the color remains. The process can be repeated many times to create detailed designs of many colors.

A Japanese katagami (paper stencil). Resist paste is applied to the open/white areas. When the paste is dry and the stencil removed, dyes or pigments are applied to the paste-free area, bringing to life the irises and their leaves.

Okinawa was an independent kingdom known as Ryukyu until it was formally annexed by Japan in 1872.  In 1879, Japan’s central government abolished the Ryukyu monarchy and renamed the region Okinawa. Under the Ryukyu monarchy, the production and consumption of bingata was tightly connected to the royal court. Expensive and labor-intensive, bingata was reserved for members of the monarchy. Family workshops, patronized primarily by the royal family, produced bingata from start to finish. The large-scale pattern and yellow ground of this striking robe are characteristic of the garments worn by the highest-ranking members of the Ryukyu royal family.[1]

When the Ryukyu monarchy was abolished, bingata was in danger of disappearing. Without the patronage of the royal family, bingata production collapsed. In the following decades, increasing popularity of western-style dress and the violent conflicts of World War II (some of which occurred on Okinawa) further diminished interest in traditional textiles like bingata. After World War II, descendants of bingata family workshops worked to revive the craft. The patterns of bingata were applied to objects other than garments, including folding screens, greeting cards, calendars, and placemats. Today, Okinawan makers apply the colors and patterns of bingata to a range of garments and accessories in an expression of regional identity.

– Rachel Harris, SAM Asian Art Conservation Associate


[1] Rathburn, William Jay. “Okinawan Weaving and Dyeing,” in Beyond the Tanabata Bridge: Traditional Japanese Textiles (Thames and Hudson/Seattle Art Museum, 1993), 196.
Images: Lined robe, early 20th century, Japanese, plain weave silk crepe with paste-resist stencil decoration (Oki., bingata) lined with modern replacement silk broadcloth, 47 3/4 in. long (from collar) x 43 in. wide, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 89.155. Paper stencil (katagami), late 19th century, Japanese, mulberry bark paper treated with persimmon juice and silk thread, 19 x 14 1/2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.1782

Asian Art Conservation During the Pandemic Pause

As we prepare to reopen the Asian Art Museum to the public on May 28, we’re sharing some of the work that has happened inside the museum while it has been closed. The Asian Paintings Conservation Center will not be open when we reopen, but there will be a monitor outside of it where you can learn more about what SAM staff is doing to ensure that Asian artworks are cared for and can be enjoyed by generations to come.

Though limited due to the pandemic, conservation activities have continued at the Asian Paintings Conservation Center. With generous, multi-year funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the staff has used this time to ensure the new center operates and is fully stocked with the specialized tools and materials required for the conservation of Asian paintings. Grant funding allowed the team to acquire pigments, tools, adhesives, technical furniture, and many different types of paper in anticipation of reopening.

While waiting, the studio has been used extensively by SAM’s conservation team. Chief conservator Nick Dorman used our new Leica stereo-binocular microscope to examine and document a late 14th-century Tibetan thangka painting scheduled for display. Consisting of pigments painted on a cotton support, the thangka depicts four mandalas, universes of Buddhist deities. To ensure the painting can withstand exhibition, Dorman examined it for evidence of flaking and lifting pigments, as well as delicate areas. He also examined and documented the condition of the cotton fabric support. Given the painting no longer has its original textile mounting fabrics, this work, as in many Western museums, is in a frame with a blue silk-covered mat. The current treatment constitutes the minimum necessary set of measures to ensure the painting is safe for display. The staff looks forward to doing more comprehensive research once the studio is fully operational. In the meantime, we can all look forward to exploring the dense imagery and exquisite detail of this thangka when the Asian Art Museum reopens.

Image: Four Mandalas, Late 14th Century, Tibetan, Watercolor on cloth, 27 x 23 1/4 in. (68.58 x 59.06 cm) Overall h.: 34 5/16 in. Overall w.: 29 5/8 in., Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 66.120.

Muse/News: Asian Art Museum to Reopen, Post-Pandemic Art Eyes, and a Mughal Miniature

SAM News

It’s official! SAM’s Asian Art Museum will reopen to the public on May 28; members get the first look beginning May 7. The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig offered this preview, revisiting her February 2020 article on the museum’s grand reopening following its three-year renovation and reimagining (we hardly knew ye!). Capitol Hill Seattle Blog also shared the news. Get ready for more art!

“I’m excited to get back into the building and see what new connections my brain will make after more than a year away. And in the wake of the targeted violence on the Asian community both here and across the country, it’s an important moment to reflect on the history and culture of an invaluable part of Seattle.”

And the downtown Seattle Art Museum is open, with the special exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle on view through May 23. Carla Bell reviewed the show for PREVIEW Magazine, out in the world now.

Local News

Last week, Washington State announced Rena Priest as its next Poet Laureate. Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel has more on the state’s first Native American named to the post.

Have you reviewed the full lineup for the 2021 Seattle International Film Festival? It’s first-ever virtual edition? Seattle Met has the details.

Also this week from the Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig: A moving long read reflecting on how the pandemic has changed the way we look at art.

“Had that Georges de la Tour painting always been so tender? Or that Akio Takamori sculpture so solemn? My mind was a mess. Good Critic Impulses were apparently left in March of 2020.”

Inter/National News

“How an LA Printmaking Workshop Advanced the Career of Women Artists.” Hyperallergic’s Jordan Karney Chaim on June Wayne’s Tamarind Lithography Workshop.

“My work is focused on the idea of how crucial it is for Black people to think of leisure as a radical act.” Derrick Adams speaks with Vogue; his work is on view at SAM as part of The American Struggle.

One of those “ooh…ahh!” New York Times art interactives! Jason Farago with a stirring close read of an eight-inch tall, 17th-century Mughal painting.

“Within the details of this miniature lies a master class in the political uses of cultural hybridity. And the uses of something else too: dumbfounding, superhuman beauty.”

And Finally

Welsh bunnies, archaeologists.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Tim Griffith

Revisiting Reopening the Asian Art Museum, At Last

One year ago, we welcomed you back to the renovated Asian Art Museum following a three-year closure while we reimagined and reinstalled SAM’s original home. Now, we are thrilled to invite you to another reopening in May 2021, following our year-long COVID closure to keep our community safe. The galleries have been waiting for you.

During the opening weekend in February 2020, 10,000 people visited the museum to experience the groundbreaking new thematic installation of SAM’s Asian art collection and share in creativity across cultures. It was moment to remember and we invite you to revisit the festivities in this video. Closing the museum just one month after this video was filmed was a sad moment and we know that many people did not get a chance to experience the expanded and enhanced Asian Art Museum. But soon, everyone will be able to!

The Asian Art Museum will reopen with limited capacity to members on May 7 and to the public on May 28. Friday, May 28 will be free and hours will be extended for Memorial Day weekend. Member tickets will be available starting April 15 and the public can get tickets starting April 29. The museum hours are 10 am–5 pm, Fridays–Sundays and admission is free on the last Friday of every month. When the museum reopens, the inaugural exhibitions will remain on view, including Boundless: Stories of Asian Art and Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art in the museum’s galleries and the installation Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn: Gather in the Fuller Garden Court. Learn more about what to know when you visit the Asian Art Museum.

Today’s Seattle Asian Art Museum is inspired. The Asian Art Museum breaks boundaries to offer a thematic, rather than geographic or chronological, exploration of art from the world’s largest continent. The restoration of the historic Art Deco building, improvements to critical systems, expanded gallery and education spaces, and a new park lobby that connects the museum to the surrounding Volunteer Park are just some of the ways the Asian Art Museum has been transformed and preserved as a cultural and community resource for future generations.

You will no longer find galleries labeled China, Japan, or India. Instead, vibrant artworks from Vietnam to Iran, and everywhere in between, come together to tell stories of human experiences across time and place. From themes of worship and celebration to clothing and identity, nature and power to birth and death, the new collection installation reveals the complexity and diversity of Asia—a place of distinct cultures, histories, and belief systems that help shape our world today.

Muse/News: Wonder Boys, Men on Pointe, and Frankenthaler’s Poise

SAM News

The Seattle Art Museum is now open with the special exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle on view through May 23. KOMO’s Eric Jensen interviews curator Theresa Papanikolas about the Struggle series in a video for Seattle Refined.

Also on view at the museum: Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence. The Seattle Times’ Megan Burbank, Corinne Chin, and Ramon Dompor visit the celebrated Seattle artist’s first solo show at SAM, along with two special visitors: friends and portrait subjects Elisheba Johnson and her son Emery Spearman (whose portrait is titled, Wonder Boy).

“The struggle her work reckons with is more internal, cerebral, something every viewer is called upon to consider. ‘I create what I want from the other,’ she said. ‘So it’s not a space for you to go and just think about all the bad things that happen to Black people or happen to Black children. What about your own children? What about you?’”

Local writer Naomi Tomky for Condé Nast Traveler with a great weekend agenda for Seattle, including a stop at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

And finally, over the weekend, SAM’s Asian Art Museum invited the community to reflect on its steps at a memorial for those impacted by anti-Asian racism and violence. See stories from Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and KIRO.

Local News

What’s the Deal with That Immersive Van Gogh Installation?” asks the Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig. She responds and makes recommendations for immersive art installations more worth your time.

NFT? We don’t get it, either, but Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel looks into the booming—and controversial—world of crypto art.”

The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald speaks with Ashton Edwards, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s first male professional division student to take pointe technique classes, about traditional ballet’s possible gender-fluid future. Don’t miss the video by Ramon Dompor and Corinne Chin.

“The first time Ashton Edwards tried dancing on pointe, it felt like coming home. ‘It was just like magic. It felt beautiful on pointe. I felt like I could dance forever.’”

Inter/National News

There’s a new auction of photographs documenting missing paintings that Jacob Lawrence made while he was a war artist with the Coast Guard during World War II, Artnet’s Brian Boucher reports. The photographs could help unearth more original Lawrence works.

The Washington Post’s Peggy McGlone reports on the Smithsonian’s search for six—yes, six!—museum directors, which could “reshape the institution for generations.”

NPR’s Susan Stamberg on a new biography of Helen Frankenthaler by Alexander Nemerov; don’t miss the from-the-archives 1988 audio interview with the artist, too.

“Asked what the paintings are ‘about,’ the biographer says, ‘that lyrical moment of possibility in life, which is not unmixed with sadness and even grief. It’s about feeling the world.’”

And Finally

Muse/News recommends: Victor Luckerson’s Run It Back newsletter.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Wonder Boy, 2020, Barbara Earl Thomas, American, cut paper and hand-printed color backing, 40 x 26 in., Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, photo: Spike Mafford.

In Solidarity with Our Asian Communities

SAM stands united with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Asian immigrant families, friends, colleagues and communities locally and across the country, in the wake of rising violence against these communities over the last year and in the aftermath of the recent horrific shootings in Georgia that left eight people dead, six of whom were women of Asian descent. We join the larger Atlanta community and the country in mourning Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng.

In recognition of these lives taken so violently, we invite you to take a moment of silence on the steps of the Asian Art Museum. A community memorial will be available for the public to contribute to and visit from Noon on Saturday, March 27, through 5 pm Sunday, March 28.

American history reveals countless examples of systemic anti-Asian racism, from the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, to the 1924 Immigrations Act, to Executive Order 9066 in 1942. All of these federal actions had a major impact on Asian communities in Washington State and the Seattle region, resulting in loss of life, livelihoods, and property, and they are just a part of longstanding patterns of harassment and intimidation. A study on anti-Asian prejudice conducted this month by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, University of California, San Bernardino shows a 150% increase in hate crimes targeting Asian people, based on data from America’s largest 16 cities. Seattle and King County officials also report on this rise. Anti-Asian racism is a part of white supremacy that we must all work to defeat.

As a global museum, we always turn to art and artists to contextualize challenging moments and examine our history and society. Experiencing and engaging with art brings new perspectives to light and broadens understanding across cultures. SAM’s collection was founded in Asian art by the museum’s first director, Dr. Richard E. Fuller. After expanding to downtown Seattle, the original home of SAM was rededicated in 1994 as the Seattle Asian Art Museum and a center of Asian art and ideas. SAM’s Asian Art Museum is the only one of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. We understand our role as stewards of not only art, but also as an important place for Asian communities to come together and where people from all backgrounds can experience and appreciate a wide range of rich Asian cultures. 

In June 2020, following the killing of George Floyd and a massive social justice movement for Black lives, we were compelled to increase SAM’s commitment to combating institutional racism by establishing an Equity Task Force. This group of SAM board, staff, and community members worked over six months to conduct a self-assessment and provide recommendations for initiatives in specific operational areas. This work is ongoing as we continue to build on SAM’s commitment to fostering equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout the museum. 

The recent shootings in Georgia and escalating incidents of anti-Asian violence in Seattle and elsewhere strengthens SAM’s commitment and resolve to becoming an anti-racist institution. This is some of the most pressing and important work we are undertaking. As we take steps towards evaluating where we can improve and how we can better support the communities around us, the large and diverse Asian populations in Seattle and the surrounding areas, in addition to those on staff at the museum, are a crucial part of our conversations. SAM belongs to the communities it serves. 

Support Asian cultural organizations in the Seattle area and get involved.

API Chaya
Asian Counseling and Referral Service
The Future Ancient
International Examiner
Northwest Asian Weekly
Pride Asia
Stop AAPI Hate
Tasveer
Wilderness Inner-City Leadership Development
The Wing Luke Museum
Seattle Asian American Film Festival
Seattle Chinese Post
Seattle Chinese Times

Object of the Week: Reduction

The most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan devastated the Tohoku (Northeast) region on March 11, 2011. The 9.0-magnitude temblor triggered a tsunami over 100-feet high, which in turn caused a meltdown at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Within just a few hours, several towns in the region were wiped off the map. It was horrifying.

The magnitude of the triple disaster was beyond measure, not only in terms of its physical devastation, but its psychological impact on Japanese people. Fears about radiation contamination are still present, even today. Many Japanese artists responded to the catastrophe in their own creative ways, but Kondo Takahiro (born 1958), a ceramic artist, was so shocked that he was unable to work for a while. He was compelled to think deeply about human survival and our relationship with nature.

Months later, Takahiro started making his Reduction series. Modelled on his own body, the sculptural figure sits in a meditative posture, as if in contemplation. According to the artist’s own commentary, the figure is pondering what the essence of the world is. He titled the series Reduction with a suggestion that devastating events like the 3.11 disaster could diminish the Japanese people. The glittery silver drops created by his patented “silver-mist” glaze can also be understood as a reference to the radioactivity in Fukushima. Between 2012 and 2017, Takahiro created 21 life-size ceramic sculptures for the Reduction series. Even though all 21 pieces were molded in the same shape, each figure has varied glazes, affording each its own unique look. The work in SAM’s collection is covered with a gray-green glaze, with a dripping bluish glaze throughout the surface—together, the combination recalls an ancient bronze vessel aged with patina.

Reduction is a timely work in response to disconcerting contemporary events, but the piece is also timeless, speaking eloquently to human conditions and our relationship with nature. It is currently displayed atop the restored 1933 fountain located in the heart of SAM’s Asian Art Museum: the Garden Court. Takahiro’s signature “silver-mist” glaze drips down the body like falling water, echoing the trickling water in the fountain. Natural light filters through the Garden Court ceiling, altering the sculpture’s color and appearance every instant. The setting resonates well with Reduction’s intention of examining our relationship with nature, as well as with the artist’s concept of ceramic art being a unity of water, fire, and earth.

As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 3.11 triple disaster, our battle against an unprecedented pandemic—one year after its outbreak—is not over. In such times of crisis, Reduction is a poignant reminder how fragile our world is, and how human beings have made it so.

Xiaojin Wu, Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation Curator of Japanese and Korean Art

Images: Reduction, 2015, Takahiro Kondo, porcelain with blue underglaze and “silver mist” overglaze, 33 7/16 × 25 9/16 × 17 11/16 in., Robert M. Shields Fund for Asian Ceramics, 2019.5 © Takahiro Kondo. Installation view Asian Art Museum, 2020, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Yes/And: A Q&A with New SAM Curator Natalia Di Pietrantonio

Following the debut of the reinstalled and reimagined Asian Art Museum, SAM deepened its commitment to South Asian art by appointing Natalia Di Pietrantonio as the museum’s first-ever Assistant Curator of South Asian Art. In this new role, she’ll foster the next direction of the South Asian collection at SAM and collaborate with curatorial colleagues, especially Xiaojin Wu, Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, and FOONG Ping, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art. Rachel Eggers, Associate Director of Public Relations, interviewed her to learn when she fell in love with South Asian art, her first exhibition for the museum, and the natural beauty of Seattle.

Tell us about your background and how you came to specialize in South Asian art.

I’ve loved art since I was very young and decided to study art history at UC Davis. During a required Asian art survey course, I found myself falling in love with South Asian art. It was completely unexpected! I had not been exposed to South Asian art before then, but starting with that one class it became my career.

I further developed this interest in the classroom of Heghnar Watenpaugh, a notable Islamicist who brought a gender studies approach to the study of art history. Based on a research paper that I wrote during one of Professor Watenpaugh’s courses, I decided to continue my studies and pursue graduate work at Columbia University. After completing a masters at Columbia, I completed a PhD at Cornell University. Both Columbia and Cornell have wonderful South Asian centers with excellent language programs, which were pivotal resources that enabled my research. After I completed my studies, I held two postdoctoral positions: one as the Consortium for Faculty Diversity Visiting Professor in South Asian Art History at Scripps College, and the other as a postdoctoral fellow at the Bard Graduate Center’s Islamic Art and Material Culture. Being hired in both South Asian and Islamic art history fields highlights my interdisciplinary training and diverse professional experience.

My personal and familial background is very different from my chosen career. Both of my parents were immigrants to this country: my father from Italy and my mother from Mexico. My mom in particular was very unsure of my chosen path in the arts but she remained supportive. As a museum curator, however, she recalls her own experiences in museums and sees a lot of value in my work bridging scholarship with community engagement and education through the arts.

Your inaugural exhibition for SAM at the Asian Art Museum, Skin as Allegory (working title), is tentatively scheduled for late 2021. How did you choose the focus for the show?

Due to Covid-19, we’ve had to be nimble. Initially, my first show would have concentrated solely on our historical permanent collection. However, as I became more aware of the important holdings within the private collections of the Seattle community, I expanded the theme of the exhibition to weave in these special works. Skin as Allegory will be the first special exhibition at the Asian Art Museum that blends contemporary and historical objects from South Asia. It will explore visual practices that contain representations and refigurations of the human body, featuring objects from the 3rd millennium BC to present day in a range of diverse material such as terracotta, bronze, metal, painting, and textiles.

You’ll see the poignant works of Chila Kumari Burman (b. 1957) and F.N. Souza (1924-2002) who were active members of British Black Arts Movement after they immigrated to London. In their work, they connect the representation of the body to the broader development of feminist, gender, and racial justice as they struggled against anti-Black racism as South Asians in England. Through their art, they fought for social and racial justice on behalf of communities who were part of the British crown’s former colonies, including those from Africa and Asia. Alongside these exciting loans will be works from our permanent collection, such as photographs by Pushpamala, whose work restages herself and her body to question gender norms in religious and national mythologies within the Indian public sphere.

As you see it, what is the future of this newly formed curatorial department at the Seattle Art Museum?

The future of the South Asian collection is in the hands of all of you! I see my role as an educator, facilitator, and more importantly someone who cares for the collection. I have many ideas of how we can grow the collection while at the same time balancing the need to do justice to our current permanent collection. I have devoted the majority of my career to the study of South Asian objects and have the privilege of working on behalf of this collection everyday. However, I also work on behalf of the public; curators do not act alone. Internally, we work in teams with wonderful colleagues. Externally, we speak and network with many students, collectors, donors, and art lovers.

SAM is the largest museum in the Pacific Northwest, and I have a duty to preserve and honor the current South Asian collection. At the same time, I need to explore how the collection can better reflect the Pacific Northwest community in all of its diversity. For instance, we can become a center for South Asian folk art, showcase more contemporary South Asian female artists, or highlight more artworks in new media to reflect this tech city. It’s a yes/and, not an either/or. I look forward to holding conversations with all of you about how you would like me to honor and grow the South Asian collection.

This exciting new position at SAM came at a very challenging moment in the world. How has it been for you, joining the museum in the midst of a global pandemic?

The SAM staff has been very welcoming. But it has been somewhat difficult to connect with the rest of the Seattle community. The general public is integral to curatorial practice. As a nonprofit, SAM holds its art collection in a public trust. For my work to be meaningful, it has to reflect public needs and desires. For the safety and health of everyone during the pandemic, we must all physically distance ourselves based on the information and advice coming from public health experts. Right now, a large part of my job as a curator and cultural facilitator cannot be undertaken in the usual manner of one-to-one meetings or large group gatherings.

So I, along with the rest of the SAM team, have moved to digital platforms to continually serve the public and bring art into your homes. I have also embraced more of the research aspect of my job, such as writing and researching on SAM’s permanent collection, since it can be undertaken in a more isolated fashion. In this regard, I recently published a research article in one of the most influential journals in my field, Modern Asian Studies. I look forward to the day when we can all safely be in front of the art again and develop more lively connections.

Tell us what you’ve been enjoying about Seattle so far. Any favorite places or experiences?

I have been enjoying the natural beauty of Seattle, waking up everyday to the sight of snowcapped mountains and the Puget Sound. As a former Californian, I forgot how much I missed seeing the mountains everyday! To live with such beauty is truly a gift. To soak up the sunshine as much as possible, I’ve been taking long walks to the Arboretum. My favorite place in Seattle so far is Golden Gardens Park. Any place where I can see and hear the ocean will forever be my favorite place to be.


This newly-created position would not be possible without the vision and generosity of the following individuals

Mimi Gardner Gates 
Anu and Naveen Jain
Rajesh Jha and Sudha Mishra
Shirish and Mona Nadkarni
Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan
Suri and Mala Raman
Darshana Shanbhag and Dilip Wagle
Gursharan and Elvira Sidhu
Rubie and Pradeep Singh
Narender and Rekha Sood
Vijay and Sita Vashee

Skin as Allegory Supporting Sponsor
Blakemore Foundation
Images: As One III, 2017, Brendan Fernandes, 1979, digital print, 34 x 48 in., Gift of Christopher and Alida Latham, 2019.27.1 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Motherland—The Festive Tableau, from the Mother India project, 2009 (print date 2012), Pushpamala N. Archival Inkjet print, 45 x 30 in., Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, 2015.25.1 © Pushpamala N.

Lunar New Year: Celebrating the Year of the Ox

Family festivals at the Seattle Asian Art Museum connect families with performances, art activities, and other programming related to SAM’s Asian art collection. While our Asian Art Museum remains closed, families at home can make art and learn more about Asian art, as well as our wonderful community partners.

Lunar New Year typically falls sometime between January 21 and February 20 each year. The holiday, which marks the first new moon of the lunisolar calendar, is celebrated in many places throughout Asia and in Seattle. In past years, SAM has celebrated Lunar New Year with families at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in February. The event has featured performances from Hengda Dance Academy, Mak Fai Kung Fu & Lion Dance Team, Junhong Kung Fu Club, and more. In addition to these performances, Seattle-based teaching artists have led original art activities for attendees throughout the day.

Although we won’t be celebrating at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in person this year, we’re excited to present a video from Ray Yang, one of our past Lunar New Year Family Festival teaching artists, that leads families through an activity at home. Thanks to a grant from the Freeman Foundation, SAM is able to provide a limited amount of art kits to families completing this activity at home! If you would like to receive a free art kit in the mail, please send your name and mailing address with the subject line “Lunar New Year” to FamilyPrograms@seattleartmuseum.org by February 28, 2021.

ART ACTIVITY: THE GREAT RACE AND COMICS

For ages 6-10+

About the Chinese Zodiac

The Year of the Ox began yesterday, February 12. The ox is one of twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac. Ever wonder how the order of the animals in the Chinese zodiac were determined? One of the most popular legends relates the tale of a great race decreed by the Jade Emperor to decide the order of the animals. Learn a bit more about the race and how to draw three of the animals in the race: the ox, the rat, and the tiger, the first three animals in the cycle. We will then create a story with the three of them as a comic strip! The great race is an important part of Chinese history, and understanding the story and how it shapes the zodiac is important. But it’s also fun to create stories that play with different outcomes or paths that the characters could have taken. That’s what we can do as artists today.

Materials

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Extension: Construction paper, scissors, glue stick, markers, googly eyes.

Steps

To create our comic, we will use a few important comic concepts: Characters, Panels, Setting, Dialogue, and Action!

  1. Characters: Begin by drawing the ox. Next up is the rat. And finally the tiger! Now that you’ve got the three characters down, show them in a series of three panels as part of the race.
  2. Panels and setting: Comic artists use panels with borders to contain the action in their drawings — sometimes the action even breaks out of the panels! What setting do you put the characters in? Are they racing across a river like the great race story? Do they race through the streets of Seattle instead? Or on a race course?
  3. Dialogue: What about dialogue? That’s the words that the characters say to each other. Is there conversation between the animals? Comic artists often contain these words in word balloons! Draw some balloons for your dialogue!
  4. Action: And finally, what is the action that’s taking place? How do they end up as the first three finishers? Or maybe they finish in a different order in your race. You get to decide the story!

Extension: Create a paper ox, rat, and tiger out of paper! The process is similar to the creation of our drawings, except you will be creating these shapes with cut paper. You can then glue the cut shapes onto a background or setting to create a scene, or even move them around as paper doll type figures to act out different race outcomes.

– Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator

Photo: Jen Au

Art & Social Justice Stories

Over the past several years, SAM has presented Art & Social Justice Tours during the week of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Facilitated by SAM staff, the tours invite conversation and personal responses based on artists and artworks on view in SAM’s galleries. Since we can’t be together in the galleries this year, we’ve invited SAM staff to reflect on the important connection between art and social justice from home. These responses were shared on SAM’s Instagram stories throughout the week as SAM staff members offered perspectives on art at SAM or in their homes, that honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

These videos were too good to only live in our highlights, so we’ve gathered them here for you. Hear from Brandon Vaughan, one of SAM’s board members, on Swedish artist Eitil Thorén Due, and Seattle artist Christina Martinez.

Cindy Bolton, Chief Financial Officer at SAM, shares an artwork from her home by Charly Palmer. Check out Freedom in Bolton’s story and find some optimism in this artwork.

Yaoyao Liu is a museum educator at SAM and she discusses Takahiro Kondo‘s sculpture, Reduction. This newly installed contemporary sculpture sits on the recently restored fountain in the Fuller Garden Court at the renovated and expended Asian Art Museum. We look forward to reopening SAM’s original home later this spring so you can see this work in person.

Muse/News: Reflections, Lives They Lived, and Room Tone

SAM News

All SAM locations are currently closed until further notice, but we continue to reflect and plan for the future.

The Seattle Times shared remembrances of 11 cultural figures we lost in 2020. Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s former Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, wrote about Virginia “Jinny” Wright. Jinny and her enormous contributions to SAM and to the Puget Sound region are celebrated in SAM’s exhibition City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art Shaped A New Seattle, which closes January 18.

Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka asked four leaders in the region to reflect on the past year and on what they’ll take into 2021; Priya Frank, SAM’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, reflected on creativity, care, and an ubiquitous sweatshirt. And in case you missed it: Priya appeared on KUOW’s The Record back in November talking museums and accessibility.

Local News

2020 feel like a blur? Seattle Met has you covered with this timeline of the year, including the February reopening of the reimagined Asian Art Museum (we hardly knew ye!).

“A giant of Native Northwest Coast art”: Artist, curator, and teacher Bill Holm passed away at the age of 95 earlier in December. Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art, spoke with the Seattle Times about how she “found her calling” in his classes.

Also in the Seattle Times: The largest-ever edition of their annual Pictures of the Year project. Take a moment to reflect on the visual stories that their team of photojournalists captured, against all odds.

“Everything we needed was suddenly in short supply. One photographer sewed masks for the entire staff. Others dredged masks out of their garages and closets. Yet another photographer found a supply of hand sanitizer made by a local distiller. Not wanting to worsen the shortage of PPE in this country, we eventually found a supply of more masks overseas. We’ve gone through a lot of them.”

Inter/National News

Artnet writers name 10 acclaimed exhibitions they wish they could have seen this year, including Artemisia at London’s National Gallery, Awol Erizku’s show at FLAG Art Foundation, and—what’s this?—Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at the Met? Lucky you, the exhibition arrives at SAM next spring.

Artist John Outterbridge passed away December 23 at the age of 87. Celebrated for his assemblage work, he was also a former director of the Watts Towers Arts Center; read more about his life and practice in the Los Angeles Times obituary.

The New York Times Magazine shares its annual end-of-year project, “The Lives They Lived.” Don’t miss Jenna Wortham on grappling with the afterlife of Breonna Taylor.

“I’ve come to see the thousands of images of Taylor as a memory of our collective will — even though it was betrayed by the state. Anti-lynching efforts were ultimately successful in reshaping the historical and cultural memory of the brutality and immorality of those deaths. ‘We shouldn’t see them — or this — as a failure, but as a project on the road to redemption,’ [Leigh] Raiford told me. She reminded me that memory and memorialization are necessary for that work, as is the honest appraisal of the past to work toward justice in the present and the future.”

And Finally

Let’s get some room tone.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Object of the Week: Flower Ball

Almost one year ago, the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopened its landmark building after a three-year restoration and redesign. On the north side of the museum, curators and education staff collaboratively designed the Community Learning Gallery, which includes works from SAM’s collection, interactive stations, and art-making activities focused on storytelling. One corner of the room asks the question: “What are masks for?” Anchoring this space is the exuberant and expansive circular painting Flower Ball by Takashi Murakami, hung adjacent to masks from Nepal, Korea, Indonesia, and Japan, and a creative-making activity by Romson Regarde Bustillo.  

AAM Reopening Educator Preview

The Asian Art Museum opening weekend on February 8, 2020, welcomed more than 12,000 visitors in the first two weeks. One month later, we closed the museum in alignment with COVID-19 public safety recommendations. And, suddenly, the question on the Community Learning Gallery wall label: “What masks do you wear to disguise or protect yourself?” gained new and critical associations. 

Seen in person, Flower Ball is magical and disorienting. Murakami uses spatial recession to create the illusion of a three-dimensional sphere coming towards you in space. The 98 ½-inch diameter circle is covered in flower faces, each wearing the mask of an emotional expression like a smiley face emoji. Flowers are Murakami’s self-described icon and appear as a recurring image in his colorful pop art. Trained at the Toyko National Museum of Fine Arts and Music, Murakami developed a trademark aesthetic—dubbed “Superflat” by the artist—that brings together the contemporary cultural penchant for cuteness (kawaii), the two-dimensional composition of traditional Japanese paintings such as Nihonga, and the illustrative styles of anime (animation) and manga (comic books). 

AAm Reopening Celebration

When I imagine this painting hanging in the dark gallery of the closed museum, I picture each of the flower faces peacefully sleeping, eyes closed, a few mouths snoring, and the painting waiting patiently for us all to return. We hope to reopen the Asian Art Museum this spring, and as people come back to the gallery, I envision Murakami’s flower faces waking up in joy and smiling down at all the visitors who look back at them with their own masks on, everyone happily and safely reunited.

Bonus! You can find an art making activity in Chinese, Spanish, and English inspired by Flower Ball here.

– Regan Pro, SAM Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement

Images: Installation view Asian Art Museum, 2019, photo: Jueqian Fang. Photo: Robert Wade. Flower Ball, 2002, Takashi Murakami, acrylic on canvas, diameter: 98 1/2 in., Gift of Richard and Elizabeth Hedreen, 2016.24.1 2002 © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Photo: Jueqian Fang.

Muse/News: New Angles, South End Energies, and Pantone’s 2021

SAM News

All SAM locations are currently closed until further notice, but you can still take a walk outside. Here’s Colleen Stinchcombe for the Seattle Times recommending a visit to Western Washington’s many outdoor spaces with sculptures, including SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park.

“If you’ve walked through before, challenge yourself to find new angles on the statues: underneath, behind, up close. How does the park look on a rainy day, or if we manage to get a dusting of snow this year?”

The renovation and expansion of SAM’s Asian Art Museum by LMN Architects makes architecture site Dezeen’s list of top 10 US architecture projects of 2020. We are working towards reopening (again!) the reimagined museum in early spring 2021.

Local News

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig takes a virtual tour of once-delayed-now-open exhibition Artemisia at the National Gallery in London; she says it’s worth the price of admission, although “when her Judith and Holofernes painting came through Seattle last year at the Seattle Art Museum, sidling up to the gruesome work felt holy.”

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel on Yakima-based artist and teacher Christie Tirado, whose recent series at Davidson Galleries, America’s Essential Workers, features “linoleum block relief prints [that] honor the people who harvest the produce many of us buy without much thought as to its origins.”

Beverly Aarons for the South Seattle Emerald on the effort to establish a state-certified “creative district” for Seattle’s South End, led by Afua Kouyate, executive director of ADEFUA Cultural Education Workshop.

“It’s about breathing energies into South Seattle,” Kouyate said. “I had so much dialogue with people [who were] like, ‘Oh, well we already have a business district in South Seattle. Oh, we already have our merchants association. We already—’ Yeah, but everybody is comfortably segregated. Nobody’s really doing things together.”

Inter/National News

Artnet has the sad headline: “A Single US Republican Senator Has Blocked the Approval of New Museums Dedicated to Women’s History and the American Latino.”

Alexandra M. Thomas of Hyperallergic has a play-by-play of a recent online teach-in organized by La Tanya S. Autry that addresses “the limits and possibilities of the arts to address anti-Blackness.” Catch up and find out what’s next for Autry’s Black Liberation Center.

The New York Times’ style writer Vanessa Friedman on Pantone’s announcement of the color of the year. Spoiler alert: for the second time, two colors have been named.

“News of the coronavirus vaccine has reinforced Pantone’s selection. Even in the gray sameness of our current days, the future does look a whole lot brighter. Illuminated, even.”

And Finally

ICYMI: Reflect on what the water holds.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Benjamin Benschneider

Muse/News: SAM Reviews, Neddy Finalists, and a Latinx artists Showcase

SAM News

All SAM locations are currently closed until further notice. That means you can’t see City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped A New Seattle right now, but you can read The Daily of UW’s article by Andy Chia about the exhibition’s celebration of collector Jinny Wright.

“‘Jinny was always a self-effacing person, but she had a love for art and humanity. She never wanted to say we’re done with art,’ [Catharina] Manchanda said. ‘She would want us to press forward into the future with the curiosity and hope that she had.’”

And while the opening of Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence may be delayed, you can check out the artist’s interviews with Marcie Sillman of KUOW and Aaron Allen of the Seattle Medium.

“‘My thoughts are [for everyone to] be a good citizen,’ says Thomas. ‘If SAM is closed down that means all of the exhibits cannot be seen. This is not personal to me and so we all have to deal, we all have to do our part. I’m lucky because my show will be up at least for a year, so if all things go well people will be able to see my show within four to six weeks.’”

Local News

Mark Van Streefkerk of South Seattle Emerald previewed the virtual edition of Legendary Children, which was presented on Saturday. Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the event highlights the talents of queer and trans Black and POC creatives and is co-presented by SAM and the Seattle Public Library.

“A welcome reprieve from isolation, a hub of safe extroversion”: The Daily’s Austen Van Der Veen on the wonders of Volunteer Park. SAM’s reimagined Asian Art Museum, which reopened in February of this year only to close again in March, is mentioned; the museum looks forward to yet another reopening in the future.

Cornish College of the Arts has announced the eight finalists for the annual Neddy Artist Awards, The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig reports. Priya Frank, SAM’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, served as one of the jurors for the awards, which will grant $30,000 each to the two winners.

“‘I feel so excited and proud for the choices we made when selecting the eight finalists,’ said Frank in a statement. ‘All exceeded the criteria, and I was touched by the ways they express their talents in such profound and inspiring ways that allow us to see the beauty and humanity in art as a reflection of life.’”

Inter/National News

This weekend, LACMA unveiled a new outdoor sculptural installation by Alex Prager. Titled Farewell, Work Holiday Parties, the piece features “15 eerily realistic, life-size sculpted figures enjoying (enjoying?) an insurance company holiday party in full swing.”

Four activists were acquitted after taking a ceremonial spear from Marseille’s Museum of African, Oceanic, and Amerindian Arts; they successfully defended the action as free speech.

Artnet’s Brian Boucher explores the Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s soon-to-debut $385 million expansion. It will feature their dramatically expanded holdings of modern and contemporary art, particularly of works by Latin American and Latinx artists.

“Fully one-quarter of the art on show in the new galleries is by Latin American and Latinx artists. Among the prizes are works by Lygia Clark, Gego (aka Gertrud Goldschmidt), Hélio Oiticica, Mira Schendel, and Joaquín Torres-García.”

And Finally

The saga of the Pig Couch.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view of Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence at Seattle Art Museum, 2020, © Seattle Art Museum, photo: Spike Mafford.

SAM Creates: Wishing You a Happy Diwali!

Family festivals at the Seattle Asian Art Museum connect families with performances, art activities, and other programming related to SAM’s Asian art collection. While our Asian Art Museum remains closed, families at home can make art and learn more about Asian art, as well as our wonderful community partners.

Diwali is the Indian festival of lights, celebrated by many people throughout South Asia, as well as in Seattle. For the past 10 years, in collaboration with our community partner, Junior Asha, SAM has organized a Diwali celebration for families held at the Seattle Asian Art Museum each November. Junior Asha is the youth chapter of the Asha for Education – Seattle Chapter. Asha is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to bringing about socio-economic change in India primarily through education. In addition to raising funds for education, Junior Asha members also support the local community by volunteering at events such as the Diwali Family Festival at the Asian Art Museum. 

Free First Saturday, Diwali Family Festival, Asian Art Museum

Each year members of Junior Asha have dedicated their time to creating programming for the festival. This has included dance performances showcasing different types of Indian dance. Festivities performed by members of Junior Asha. One component that has remained constant across many celebrations is the youth and Tiny Tots fashion show led by Junior Asha. Members also spent time in the months leading up to the event learning about the art on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum and working with SAM docents to create their own My Favorite Things tour of the museum. Members presented their tours at the Diwali Family Festival sharing their own unique opinions on artwork with the community. 

Although we won’t be gathering in person this year, we’re happy to highlight our incredible partnership with Junior Asha and to share an art activity from last year’s Diwali Family Festival for families to create at home. We’re looking forward to once again gathering together in celebration in the future.

Free First Saturday, Diwali Family Festival, Asian Art Museum

ART ACTIVITY: LUMINOUS LANTERNS

For ages 6-10+

Add a bit of color and light as you celebrate Diwali from home! Design and decorate a paper lantern with cutouts, tissue paper, and more. You can then place a light source inside when it gets dark out and see your creation come to life. 

What You’ll Need

  • Construction paper or cardstock 
  • Pencil
  • Scissors 
  • Tape or washi tape
  • Hole punch, push pin, or X-acto knife (optional, requires adult assistance)
  • Tissue paper (optional)
  • Markers (optional)
  • Tea light candle or flameless LED candle (optional)
  1. Cut a piece of square construction paper in the shape of a plus-sign, with four equal sides surrounding a square in the middle. If your piece of construction paper is rectangular, you can make it a square by folding over a corner and cutting off the extra paper on the bottom.
  2. The middle of the plus-sign will be the bottom of your lantern, so you can leave that alone for now. With pencil, sketch out a design or pattern on each of the other four sides that you can easily cut out or trace later. This can be inspired by something you see in your home or an artwork in the Asian Art Museum.
  3. Using scissors, a hole punch, push pins, or an X-acto knife, cut out or trace the design that you created. You can bend the sides of the paper over and cut out symmetrical shapes using scissors. Remember to have a grownup help you if you are using push pins or an X-acto knife. If you like, you can tape pieces of tissue paper over the cutouts to add different colors to your lantern.
  4. You can turn your plus-sign around and add decorative tape or other designs in marker. Once you have finished with what you want to cut out and add, fold the four sides of the plus-sign up to create a box without a top. You can add more decorations by cutting out and folding smaller pieces of paper, then taping them on the sides.
  5. Once you’re happy with your lantern, wait until the sun sets and place a light source inside. How do the colors and shapes change when there’s a light inside? During Diwali, people put up many lights to celebrate the special day. You can make even more lanterns in different colors, shapes, and sizes too!

KEEP LEARNING WITH A STORY

Learn more about the lights, food, and festivities of Diwali in the book Binny’s Diwali by Thrity Umirgar, illustrated by Nidhi Chanani. You can follow along with a read aloud of the book, check it out through the King County Library System, or purchase it from a bookseller.

Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator

Photos: Jen Au

Keeping the Art Safe at the Asian Art Museum

While SAM’s Asian Art Museum is closed, exhibits are still on display, waiting for the day that visitors can safely return to the building. A handful of staff are onsite, ensuring the safety and well-being of the art entrusted to SAM’s care. Sincere and tremendous thanks to Security, Environmental Services, and Facilities, who are in the building daily keeping a close eye on the art.

Throughout much of the closure, the Conservation team worked primarily from home and visited the Asian Art Museum only as needed. Environmental monitoring continued with the help of onsite Security and Facilities staff, who updated conservators to any changes in temperature or humidity. This information is recorded to create a record of the gallery environment over time. Because dust and debris can damage the surface of paintings and other artworks, the Conservation team also monitored, measured and recorded dust levels. Insects were a concern as they sometimes have a taste for paint, wood, fiber and other materials. Fortunately, both dust and insects have been at a minimum throughout the closure.

Some artworks required special interventions to protect their stability and longevity. Textiles were covered with light-weight tissue paper to protect from dust. In some galleries, movable walls were used to shield objects from light. The image above shows textiles at the Asian Art Museum as Chief Conservator Nick Dorman prepared tissue paper and moveable walls to protect the display. Light sensitive works, such as works on paper and paintings, were completely covered with black cloths to minimize light exposure. This type of preventive care can help minimize the need for more costly and invasive conservation procedures.

With careful planning to ensure the minimum number of necessary staff onsite and new work habits, the Conservation team has resumed paused projects. One major project that has been underway for several years and is now almost complete is the redesign of art storage at the Asian Art Museum. The new configuration provides more room, an improved layout, and better climate control. The racks seen on the left side of the image will be used to hang paintings and the cabinets to the right will be used to store scrolls.

Looking ahead, Conservation has resumed planning for upcoming exhibitions and art rotations. Fragile, light sensitive artworks, such as hanging scrolls, are usually displayed for only three months before being replaced with another, similar artwork. The Conservation team has been checking the condition of scrolls scheduled for upcoming rotations at the Asian Art Museum to ensure that they can be safely displayed. Every inch of the scroll is carefully examined, and any condition issues (flaking paint, discolorations, fading) are recorded. After it is taken down, the scroll is reexamined to make sure its condition is the same as before exhibition.

The Asian Art Museum continues to be closed until further notice and monitoring of the works is ongoing. Meanwhile, the Seattle Art Museum has reopened and the Conservation team is hard at work preparing for City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped A New Seattle. Evaluating modern and contemporary paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs for safe display, performing minor conservation treatments and reframing art as needed are all important steps in readying the Wright Collection for exhibition. We can’t wait to share this new exhibition with you.

– Rachel Harris, Asian Art Conservation Center Associate

Images: Writings in Seal Script, 2011, Yao Guojin, Chinese, ink on paper, 23 1/2″ x 10,’ Gift of Frank S. Bayley III and Cheney Cowles, 2012.10.3. Photos: Nicholas Dorman. Photo: Marta Pinto-Llorca.

Muse/News: Moments of Grace, Artists in Bridges, & A Hero Rat

SAM News

Fiona Ye of University of Washington’s The Daily interviews artist Barbara Earl Thomas on her upcoming exhibition at SAM, The Geography of Innocence, and talks about the intention behind her new portraits of Black children.

“Its intent is to bring us into contact with the destabilizing forces of our perceptions and biases that disrupt our innocence. It is to make us conscious of our interdependency and marvel at how individual actions can lead to changes that are transformative or disruptive. It is to situate us in a moment of grace.”

Priya Frank, SAM’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, is interviewed for Visit Seattle’s SEAforSHE series, which celebrates women leaders in Seattle.

Gather, the LED-light installation created by Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn that graces the renovated and reimagined Seattle Asian Art Museum, recently won an Architectural Lighting (AL) Design Award. While the Asian Art Museum remains closed, you can still engage with virtual programming like the upcoming series on color in Asian art.

Local News

Consider some merch with “a little sass”: Seattle Met’s Nicole Martinson recommends seven salty Seattle pieces, including Tariqa Water’s “NO” tote, available at SAM Shop.

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig sees what’s “currently hanging”: this time, it’s Untitled Anxious Men Drawings by Rashid Johnson, on view virtually from Hauser & Wirth.

Crosscut’s Agueda Pacheco Flores introduces you to the artists making comics in Seattle’s historic drawbridges while living in residence.

“‘I’m really excited,’ Russian says, as cyclists speed by. ‘The University Bridge is a drawbridge, so it’s very dynamic, tons of people walk and run across the bridge every day, plus all the boats going by underneath —’ then a boat’s air horn interrupts them.”

Inter/National News

Alex Greenberger of ARTnews on a new retrospective of Imogen Cunningham and “why the proto-feminist photographer has grown so popular.” The exhibition heads to SAM next fall.

The American Alliance of Museums’ blog talks about children’s museology and the COVID-19 crisis, sharing how museums across the country are working to prioritize young people’s learning. SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is mentioned.

The New York Times’ Holland Cotter reviews the “stirring” new exhibition at MoMA PS1, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, curated by Nicole R. Fleetwood.

“It’s a society in which racism often determines presumption of guilt; in which imprisonment — human disempowerment and erasure — is chosen over righting the inequities that lead to prison. It’s a society in which caging people is big corporate business, with connections reaching everywhere, including the art world.”

And Finally

A medal for Magawa.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Grace, 2019, Barbara Earl Thomas, American, cut paper and hand-printed color, 26 x 40 in., Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, photo: Spike Mafford.

Asia Talks: Artist Hung Liu with Laila Kazmi

Learn about the art and experiences of Chinese contemporary artist Hung Liu in this virtual artist talk. Hung Liu immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult to attend art school. Her life and artwork offer incredible perspectives on identity and migration, especially in the way she brings together China’s past with American experiences. While the Asian Art Museum remains closed, the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas continues to offer thought-provoking virtual events featuring prominent contemporary artists speaking on some of today’s most pressing topics. Our hope for this series is that the work and words of the artists can help to sustain us through this difficult time.

Hung Liu is a primarily a painter who works with photography as part of her practice. Recently she has also worked with shaped canvases for painting that are assembled to create 3-dimensional work. She is also Professor Emerita at Mills College, where she began teaching in 1990. The National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC organized a large-scale retrospective exhibition of her work that was planned for this summer, but had to be postponed because of the virus closures. Instead it will be on view there next year, from May 2021 thru Jan 2022, titled Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands, 1968-2020.

Laila Kazmi worked with SAM’s Gardner Center to organize and host this talk. She is an Emmy-award winning filmmaker, a producer, and co-founder of Kazbar Media.

Coming up, the Gardner Center’s popular Saturday University Lecture Series begins October 3. Color in Asian Art: Material and Meaning features eight free talks that dip into dimensions of color and pigment. From legend and ritual, to trade and cultural exchange, to technical innovation and changing artistic practices—the use of bold colors has been considered alternatively excessive, precious, or brilliant throughout history. What rare pigments and closely guarded techniques produced some artworks, and what artistic innovations and social changes produced others? Join us to enjoy a spectrum of talks on colors produced from the earth, sea, fire, plants, and insects.

Object of the Week: Mandala: Zone of Zero

I witnessed 9/11, and was very much shocked and affected by the traumatizing and violent terrorism. This terrorism made me contemplate a lot on dogma of religion and its extreme violence against humanity, and at the same time, on peace for the world. I wish for a harmonized society: a Utopia.

– Kimsooja

In the inaugural exhibition Be/Longing: Contemporary Asian Art at the transformed Seattle Asian Art Museum, Mandala: Zone of Zero by globally acclaimed artist Kimsooja triggers memories of a recent past—9/11—but also sadly echoes what is happening in our even more divided world today. Displayed in its own dark room, the mixed media installation consists of three circular jukeboxes spinning in mesmerizing circles, each casting its own dimly-colored glow. Playing simultaneously from the jukeboxes’ speakers are Tibetan, Islamic, and Gregorian chants, all three hymns mixing and blurring until they are indistinguishable from one another.

Kimsooja was first inspired to create this work when she came across a gambling shop on New York City’s bustling Broadway. The circular jukebox, which she saw in the shop’s window, struck her as astonishingly similar to traditional Tibetan Mandalas—intricate designs meant to symbolize the universe and aid deep meditation. From its Obangsaek color scheme (the five traditional Korean colors of white, black, blue, yellow, and red), to its circular movement mimicking the cycle of life, to the speaker at the center symbolizing the completion of the self as an awakened being, for Kimsooja “all the elements of this kitsch jukebox speaker that matched with the sacred and religious Mandala system were ironical and intriguing to me, and that urged me to create a piece of art.” The subsequent combination of American pop culture and Buddhist symbolism is even expressed in the title: Mandala: Zone of Zero. However, what makes us ponder further is the meaning of “zone of zero.” Does it refer to the spiritual unification of mind and body, creating a perfect state of “zero”? Or does it simply express an emptiness—a sense of “zero”— that comes with the commercialization of religion?

The work is further enriched by the three chants, which surround the viewer in an almost dream-like fashion. Each recording was sourced at a different religious location. Most notably, the Buddhist Monks’ “Mandala” chant was recorded by Kimsooja’s brother in the same Tibetan temple that is home to the Dalai Lama.

Mandala: Zone of Zero’s call for religious tolerance was particularly topical at the time of its creation in the years following 9/11. Kimsooja herself was in New York on the day and bore witness to the tragedy, as well as to the years of violence and war that followed between the United States and the Islamic world. But the catastrophic event also made Kimsooja long for peace in the world, wishing for “a Utopia.” This duality between discord and harmony can be heard quite literally in the entrancing chants that Kimsooja sources in her piece. At times, the different hymns seem to clash against one another harshly and, in other moments, blend lullingly together, mingling and merging until they approach a sound of unity, a feeling of tranquility, a sweeping state of zero.

— Isabelle Qian, former SAM Curatorial Intern; Xiaojin Wu, Curator of Japanese and Korean Art

Image: Mandala: Zone of Zero, 2003, Kimsooja, Three-channel sound installation with three jukeboxes, 9 min., 50 sec., Gift of William and Ruth True in honor of Chiyo Ishikawa and the reopening of the Seattle Asian Art Museum, 2020.13 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

Virtual Tour with Nana

Next in our series of virtual tours from Suzanne Ragen, aka Nana, we’ll be looking at an ancient Hindu sculpture and a Chinese sculpture from the 14th century. A SAM docent since 1965, Ragen began writing what she calls Nana’s Art History 101 for her grandchildren when the Asian Art Museum had to close for the safety of the public in March 2020. She recently started to share these virtual tours of SAM’s original home with us and we hope you enjoy them!

Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Auspicious Beginnings

Do you remember our first object, the Indian Story Scroll Cloth that featured the Hindu god Ganesh? He starts the story on that scroll because he is the God of Auspicious Beginnings, which means the story gets off to a good start. 

This stone sculpture of Ganesh was located in a niche of a Hindu temple wall. In Hinduism, there are three main gods: Brahma has four heads and is the creator of pretty much everything; Vishnu often wears a top hat and is blue and comes to earth to help when needed in the form of nine different avatars; and Shiva who is the destroyer and can end the world and then you start all over again.     

This Ganesh is connected to Shiva, we know that because the snake across his round belly is Shiva’s snake. When you look at Ganesh, what’s the first thing you notice? For me, his most striking feature is his elephant head. He also has four arms, a big belly, wears jewelry, and a crown. You might notice his candy dish in his left hand (he loves candy). What do you see near his right foot? That’s Mooshika, his rat sidekick who helps Ganesh trample down or wiggle through obstacles.

Why do you think he has an elephant head? The reason starts with Shiva and his wife Parvati, who live in a big, fancy house. Shiva is gone a lot, destroying things and Parvati misses him. One day when Shiva is gone Parvati makes a child out of clay to keep her company and breathes life into him. Once she goes to take a bath and tells her child, “Don’t let anyone in the house!” But Shiva comes home unexpectedly. Ganesh stops him and says “You can’t come in!” This makes Shiva so angry that he takes his sword and cuts off Ganesh’s head.

Parvati comes out and says, “How terrible! You have cut off the head of our child!” Shiva realizes the situation and tells his servant to go to the market and bring back the first head he sees. It is an elephant. Shiva places the elephant head on his child’s body. Ganesh comes back to life and in Hindu mythology, stays as a helper to his father and a good son to his mother.

 Many Hindus pray to Ganesh for good luck when they set a new goal. After hearing this story, what do you think is lucky about Ganesh?

Dragon Tamer Luohan

This Chinese wood sculpture from the 14th century came to the Seattle Art Museum soon after it opened its doors in 1933. How do I know this information? I looked at the label! If you look at the last numbers on any label (no matter what museum you go to), you’ll see there are a series of numbers. The numbers before the first period tell you what year the museum acquired the work, after the period is the number in which the object came into the collection that year. This is called the accession number. The accession number for this object is 36.13. This means that the object was acquired in 1936 and it was the 13th object acquired that year.

For the past 84 years this object was titled Monk at the Moment of Enlightenment. While the museum was closed for a recent renovation and expansion, our Chinese curator was able to examine it very carefully, using medical equipment like x-rays and CT scans, as well as looking closely. We can do that, too.

What we discovered from the scans is that the figure is hollow, made up of five different pieces of wood, held together with long iron pins, and was painted in reds and greens with a topcoat of gold, most of which has worn off. The curator was able to remove a panel in his back and found a single Chinese character inscribed inside that the museum had never seen before! It is part of the name for the Dragon Tamer Luohan. Luohans are Buddhist monks and this one’s particular job was to control the Dragon King. The Chinese believed that rainfall was controlled from the clouds by the Dragon King, so farmers would pray to this Luohan for the right amount of rain for their crops. Because of his size  (more than three feet) and quality, it is thought that he was originally in a temple in Beijing.

The other big surprise that was found inside him was a mud wasp nest in his head! It must have been there for 800 years. A fragment of a wasp was sent to a UW entomologist, who was able to determine its species. 

He is sitting on a tree stump, his body is twisted, legs with one foot touching the ground and the other crossed over that knee. He is grasping his robe in one hand and probably held a pail or a pearl in his other hand.  He is looking upward at the sky, communicating with the Dragon King for more or less rain to fall. He seems totally animated with his swirling robes and vigorous body language. Notice his elongated pierced ear lobes, a symbol of the Buddha, who began life so wealthy that he wore heavy gold earring which stretched his ears.

Many years ago I was leading a high school group on a tour and we were talking about enlightenment and what it is? (This was when he had his first title). I suggested that it might be what happens when you are puzzling over a math problem and the symbols and numbers are just making no sense. You keep looking at them and suddenly they fall into place. Eureka! Enlightenment! When I said that, I snapped my fingers, and at that moment there was a minor Seattle earthquake. The guards came and rushed us into a doorway. I did feel a certain odd sense of power.

– Suzanne Regan, SAM Docent

Image: Dragon Tamer Luohan, ca. 14th century, Chinese, wood with polychrome decoration, 41 x 30 x 22 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 36.13. Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Auspicious Beginnings, ca. late 10th to early 11th century, Indian , Odisha, possibly Bhubanesvara, sandstone, 18 1/4 x 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 39.33.

SAMBlog