For queer people of color, art making is survival. It's inherently connected to, in constant conversation with, and informing our activism. By simply existing, creating, and sustaining visibility for our bodies and each other's bodies, we are committing acts of great strength, and resistance. "We do this to energize our community through the arts, to create our own culture, and to inspire hope," says Queer Rebels cofounder KB Boyce. Based in San Francisco, the organization was founded in 2008 by Boyce and Celest Chan, and showcases queer artists of color, connects and builds bridges between generations, and honors our histories, ancestors, and legacies with art for our present moment and for the future.
They are also invested in creating solidarity across a collective struggle—on Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11, SPIRIT: A Century of Queer Asian Activism (in conjunction with the Sixteenth Annual United States of Asian America Festival) will offer a new and ripe realm for building power, community, and visibility within Queer Asian American populations.
"This is the first artistic event of its kind in San Francisco that I know of," notes Chan. So why now? "SPIRIT is groundbreaking because we are showcasing so many innovative, risky, experimental, and accomplished artists and activists. Asian Americans are 33 to 35 percent of the population in San Francisco, yet Queer Asian arts and activism are underrepresented. Asia consists of more than 40 countries and contains 60 percent of the world's population." In addition, Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing populations (45 percent growth from 2000 to 2010 per US Census). Yet Asian Americans are rarely seen as lead characters in mainstream arts or media, or are viewed through essentializing, fetishizing, and racist tropes. Queer Asian Americans are rendered invisible, misrepresented, and clouded. Chan notes that "the myth of the model minority started in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam war. Used in the media to counter African American struggles against systemic racism, its enduring legacy hurts all."
There are few arts spaces that highlight and thoughtfully represent Queer Asian American stories. "Queer Asian Americans and our rich histories of art and activism are erased by model minority–stereotyping," says Chan. "I hope SPIRIT sparks a dialogue. I hope it renews our energy, creativity, and community." And that it most definitely will. This is a space for affirming our identities as queer artists and activists, for finding stories that resonate, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in each other's presence. Featured artist Ryka Aoki notes, "There is a community to raise, stories to pass on, and a legacy to create."
Very intentionally, Chan is working to uncouple Asian American and Pacific Islander identities so not to tokenize the experiences of Queer Pacific Islanders and to give each group their separate and much deserved respect. Queer Rebels plans to revisit this for next year's show. She adds, "I'm honored to include such a stellar cast of pioneering artists, filmmakers, scholars, activists, and visionaries!"
While there are some Queer Asian Americans in the media, SPIRIT is highlighting participants such as Trinity Ordona, who has 45+ years of experience as an activist; Regie Cabico, a slam poet pioneer; Stephen Funk, the first conscientious objector of the Iraqi war; the brilliant poet/femme shark Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha; award-winning filmmaker/scholar/performance artist Tina Takemoto; QWOCMAP founder, Madeline Lim; feminist scholar, Margaret Rhee; and many others. SPIRIT will be a time for the Queer Asian Diaspora to come alive through performance, film, and dialogue.
SPIRIT will take place on May 10th and 11th, 2013:
May 10th - Performance at 8pm
Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts
2868 Mission St, San Francisco, CA
May 11th - Panel at 3PM
Brava Theater Center, Dance Studio, 2nd Floor
2781 24th St, San Francisco, CA
May 11th – Film Screening at 7PM
Brava Theater Center
2781 24th St, San Francisco, CA
SPIRIT was made possible by Asian Pacific Islancer Cultural Center and sponsored by Queer Cultural Center. Support from Brava Theater Center and the Visibility Project. Funding from Open Meadows Foundation, Red Envelope Giving Circle (made possible by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP), Gil Foundation, and Horizons Foundation), San Francisco Arts Commission, and individual donors.
Also see, Mia Nakano's The Visibility Project (previously covered on the Bitch Blog), an ongoing national portrait and video project dedicated to the visibility of queer Asian American women, trans, and gender non-conforming communities.
Image: A still from Tina Takemoto's "Looking For Jiro."