April 12, 2019 at 6:00 am EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
New online exhibit explores queer AAPI life
Asian Pacific America, gay news, Washington Blade
A title card page for the web exhibit ‘A Day in the Queer Life of Asian Pacific America.’ (Image courtesy Smithsonian)

Anybody with internet now has access to a burgeoning world most of us would never otherwise see. The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center has launched a new digital exhibition called “A Day in the Queer Life of Asian Pacific America.”

A joint partnership between the Smithsonian, AARP and Kundiman, a New York-based organization dedicated to the creation and cultivation of Asian-American creative writing, the series (smithsonianapa.org/day-queer-life) will feature both solicited and crowd-sourced media of all types — film, photography, boomerangs and video poems, that explore queer life in Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities throughout the country including lesser-known areas with a focus on everyday life.

“Our center has a long-running commitment to support and develop and provide resources to queer Asian-American artists and scholars,” says Lawrence Davis, curator. He’s straight but considers himself a queer ally. “It’s a long-running push of ours to support and recognize areas of need in communities that have been marginalized and that have a long-running problem of underrepresentation in art history and culture.”

There are several components to the series. Among them are:

• Queer Elders: a series of four video shorts of queer elders in San Francisco, Los Angeles and sites in the South and Midwest curated by archivist, photographer and filmmaker Mia Nakano

• Queer Check-ins: a series of 12 video poem “check-ins’ by queer diasporic poets in the U.S. and beyond curated by poet Franny Choi

• Queer Youth: a crowd-sourced photography and short video exhibit 

• Queer Motion: a crowd-sourced boomerang series exploring queer survival, heartbreak and joy in motion

• Queer Time: long-form essays on the queer experience of time by poet Rajiv Mohabir.

Davis says a lot of his team’s work will involve arranging the submissions in ways that make them “cohere in ways that will resonate.”

“It’s not a matter of saying, ‘We like this one, we don’t like this one,’” he says. “We find a way to give it shape, not in the process of what we think is good or not good, but thinking about how we can repackage it in a way that amplifies the material, especially the crowd-sourced material.”

His team worked on it for about a year. It launched March 25 and elements will continue to be added throughout the year. Davis would not say how much the series cost but says the Smithsonian, AARP and Kundiman all donated “considerable funding resources” to the project.

So overall, what is the plight for queer Asian-American and Pacific Islander people? Is it demonstrably better or worse than it is for other queer ethnic groups? 

Davis, who is Asian himself, says there is “no magical place totally free from queerphobia and transphobia” and that it is pronounced in some AAPI communities. 

“Also no AAPI person lives in exclusively AAPI communities, we live in other communities and within family spaces and community spaces … so that’s all the more reason to have a project like this that engages the realities of queer life.”

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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