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Remapping Topographies of Race and Public Space: Asian American Artists in California (1970s to Present)


This study seeks out diverse and complex intersections of space, place, and identity through selected Asian American artists working in California from the 1970s to 2000s. It does so in the format of three case studies exploring artwork by Kearny Street Workshop (1972-1977), Masumi Hayashi (1945-2006), and Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). This art historical research attends to how aesthetics and politics meld together and investigates this through themes of race and public space. By analyzing representations of physical and cultural landscapes, I argue how important central texts and subtexts of the featured work divulge negotiated, culturally hybrid terrain. The study first examines Kearny Street Workshop’s community arts engagement and graphic arts posters in urban ethnic neighborhoods. As such, new public images of Asian Americans were to emerge during a tumultuous era of social activism and cultural affirmation in the 1970s. It next considers Hayashi’s “American Concentration Camps” series of panoramic photo collages (1990-1999) representing pilgrimage landscapes of the WWII Japanese American internment (1942-1945). It investigates the imagery’s transformative reflections upon history, memory, and civil liberties in crossgenerational ways. Lastly, it focuses on Noguchi’s sculpture garden California Scenario (1980-1982) and nature-culture relations within a postsuburban environment, noting its global, transcultural, and performative intersections. Each of these case studies reveals how cultural specificity and cultural heterogeneity in contradistinction dispels any sense of singular or fixed spaces, places, and identities.

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