Asia North exhibition amplifies artist voices amid rising violence toward Asian community

By: Alisha Hancock, Contributing Writer 

The third annual Asia North Exhibition and festival began on April 10 and will run until May 15 in socially distanced locations throughout Baltimore’s Charles North (Station North) and online in the form of virtual festival events. 

The event is co-presented by the Asian Arts and Culture Center (AA&CC) at Towson University (TU), Central Baltimore Partnership, and other community partners, a press release from the AA&CC says. It celebrates the art, culture and Asian heritage of Greater Baltimore, specifically the Korean history of Station North.

The exhibition will feature 25 regional Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists. Their artwork can be viewed in-person in Station North at Motor House, Joe Squared, SNF Parkway Theatre, North Avenue Market, Impact Hub and Maryland Institute College of Art’s (MICA) Fred Lazarous Center. 

There are six different virtual events, including a collage-making workshop on April 17 with “Exploring Identity through Culture,” a virtual concert with Dong Xi on April 21, “Zinemaking 101” on April 30 and learning how to build stories in the workshop “Making Stories with Where We’re From” on May 7.

The “Virtual Kick-off Event” on April 10 featured a video tour of the exhibit as well as performances and presentations from some artists. 

Nerissa Paglinauan, the curator for Asia North 2021 Exhibition and the AA&CC’s program manager, said that they had to plan around rising and falling COVID-19 cases with hybrid events. 

“We had to be nimble about it and, again, kind of go with the flow,” said Paglinauan. “So with Central Baltimore Partnership, we decided to do kind of a hybrid of sorts, and create the physical installation. So along with that was also getting all those venues coordinated plus we still wanted, in the case that we definitely couldn’t have anything in person, we definitely wanted to have it online as well so it’s kind of like the work was doubled, making sure there was an online component.”

Paglinauan says she decided not to pre-determine a theme for the exhibition, instead preferring the artists to develop their own theme and messages, especially with the rising violence toward the Asian community. 

“I don’t want to speak for the artists, I just want them to tell their own stories,” Paglinauan said. “It’s just feels really important now to be able to provide this platform for all these artists to share their different voices and perspectives and even just their reactions and how they’re responding to what’s going on. Now’s not the time to be quiet…you know, art has a way of empowering people who feel like they haven’t had a voice.” 

Featured artist Jinyoung Koh, assistant professor of the Department of Art + Design, Art History and Art Education at TU, discussed how his recent experiences have impacted his artwork. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic and the time of hate, I continually asked myself, ‘Who am I?’ ‘What does this work say about me?’ ‘How do they see me?’ and ‘How do I see myself?’” Koh said. “I struggled to understand my socio-cultural identity and how it would influence my artistic process. The questions that constantly ran through my head needed to be expressed.” 

According to Jing Ma, one of the 25 featured artists and former TU student, the exhibition also provides the featured artists with the ability to showcase their culture authentically. 

“I would love to join [these] events because it’s a great opportunity to show Chinese culture,” Ma said. 

Koh expressed his appreciation in being able to participate in this event and share his perspective. 

“This opportunity means a lot to me as an contemporary artist from Asia to discuss how art relates to our own experience without stereotypes, and discover what’s new and compelling about art today for our valuable cross-cultural insights,” Koh said. 

Sunjin Lee, a returning featured artist in the Asia North exhibition from last year’s virtual exhibition, discussed how art gives her the ability to be herself. 

“Ultimately, I enjoy creating paintings that have never existed in the world, and I am doing art because I can open up my own private space and express myself without restrictions,” Lee said. 

Paglinauan wants viewers to open themselves up to the Asia North Exhibition and the experiences they encounter. 

“Just experience it, that’s all,” said Paglinauan. “That’s all I want people to do, experience it at their comfort level and maybe climb outside their comfort level too, if they’re willing.”

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