“Dear America Project” Gives Asian American Artists Space to Respond to Anti-Asian Hate


The “Dear America Project” features images of Asian American artists projected onto the Kaiser Center in Oakland and other buildings around the Bay Area. Photo credit: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

Christy Chan was distraught after the March shooting at an Atlanta massage parlor where eight people, including six Asian American women, were senselessly killed.

The Oakland artist said she saw the media fail in their response, and the pain of the shooting was compounded by the violence against Asians she saw throughout the Bay Area pandemic. and across the country.

But oneAs an artist who has spent years working in public art and screenings, Chan found an artistic outlet to express her feelings about the incident and the anti-Asian prejudices she suffered. She created the “Dear America Project,” a series of projected images created by Asian American artists who began appearing on the sides of buildings in Oakland last month.

The project, aimed at combating anti-Asian hatred and racism, was something Chan had thought about long before the Atlanta shooting. The horrific incident, however, gave him a new sense of urgency.

“The media told the story from the murderer’s point of view, and in doing so, they perpetuated stereotypes of Asian women,” Chan said. “If white supremacy and sexualized misogyny were a virus, the news just mutated that virus. “

Chan, who works in film screening and production, has a long history of community organizing and has been creating art addressing white supremacy for 15 years. She often uses art to process her experiences as an Asian American, from her Southern upbringing in Virginia to the micro-aggressions she encounters in the Bay Area.

“Dear America” ​​collaborator Weston Teruya watches the screening of the Chinese translation of “Black Lives Matter” by artist Mel Chin at the Kaiser Center in Oakland. Photo credit: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

When she started working on the project in earnest, she scoured the Bay Area looking for possible spaces to display the projections. More importantly, Chan said, she didn’t want to use any site that required permission. The subjects of the screenings, which range from four floors to 15 floors, include the roots of violence against Asian Americans and calls for solidarity between people of color.

“The size is no coincidence, because they have the right to take up space,” Chan said.

Chan’s contribution to “Dear America” is a projection of the phrase “White supremacy is the original cancellation culture”. It’s a response to what she called the gaslighting she experienced as an Asian American, where wanting human rights for all was seen as radical.

As her vision for the project took shape, she asked other Asian American artists to participate.

When Chan first contacted Mel Chin, a concept artist from North Carolina with decades of experience, he already knew which direction he wanted to go. Chin had spent the past year working with friends and fellow artists to create the best possible Chinese translation of the phrase “Black lives matter.” The Chinese version, which reads loosely as “Black lives are a matter of life and death,” is displayed in its projection above the words “Better Together” in English.

“I wanted to express my solidarity from a China-US point of view,” Chin said. “White supremacy has always been about pitting people of color against each other. “

Chan also asked Cathy Lu, another artist from the Bay Area, to contribute to the project. Lu, who is trained in ceramics, had little previous experience in graphic art but knew she wanted to do something striking.

“The purpose of the project is to get people’s attention,” Lu mentionned.

Artist Cathy Lu’s projection of Chinese characters loosely translates to “We are all one family.” Photo credit: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

Lu’s projection features three bright yellow fists and a blue background with red Chinese characters that loosely translate to “We are all one family.”

The project has already caught the attention of onlookers who stumbled upon the presentation in downtown Oakland last month.

“I am an American of Chinese descent, and for about a year the evil racism has been alarming, said Joanne Shen, an Oakland resident who saw the screenings in Oakland with her son. So having an artist like Christy speak so forcefully and eloquently with an anti-racist message has been so powerful. “

Shen likened the discovery of the projections to a “treasure hunt,” which she said improved the experience.

So far, four presentations of “Dear America” ​​have appeared in previously undisclosed locations in downtown Oakland and at Mills College. The most recent was on Thursday July 15. Chan has planned three more Dear America Project presentations, in San Francisco, San Jose and at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga.

The Montalvo Arts Center is a particularly symbolic place, Chan said, as it was once the home of James Phelan, mayor of San Francisco and three-term California senator, who was an active supporter of restricting Chinese immigration and Japanese in the United States.

Dear America Project creator Christy Chan (left) projects images at the Kaiser Center with Amal Amer (center) and Brandi Howell. Photo credit: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

The experience of creating and running the “Dear America Project” has been extremely cathartic after a year of helplessness, Chan said.

“As an Asian woman during this epidemic of anti-Asian violence, it means a lot to me to be able to stay out at night and project yourself,” she said.

Dear American project: Next screenings scheduled for Sunday July 18 in California and Taylor streets in San Francisco; July 25 in San José; and August 12 at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga. dearamericaprojections.com.

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