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Open Access Publications from the University of California

ʻAe Kai Rising: Trans-Oceanic Communities of Cultural Imagination


ʻAe Kai: A Culture Lab on Convergence, a three-day pop-up exhibition and performance venue organized by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (July 7–9, 2017), was a daring social and intercultural experiment. Bringing attention to Hawaiʻi as a locus of trans-oceanic circulation, contact, and contestation, the project convened more than fifty visual artists, filmmakers, poets, scholars, performers, musicians, artisans, and traditional cultural practitioners from across the Asia-Pacific region and the Americas. Beyond fostering person-toperson contact via curated spaces of conviviality involving the participants and visitors to the site, the Culture Lab was foundationally oriented to the transactional production and sharing of knowledge across diverse communities by encouraging collaboration and dialogue in informal, face-to-face exchanges. In considering what type of model for contemporary, socially-engaged curatorial and museum practice the Culture Lab was advancing by devising transitory, culture-centered spaces and identifying themes around which people could find common cause, this piece draws on my firsthand observation of ʻAe Kai and the insights of visual artists I interviewed about their projects. It equally raises the question of what kinds of communities and support systems are being called forth through public convenings in which artists/cultural producers and spectators alike can claim places as active, expressive stakeholders in coextensive civic discourse.

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