SHOWS THAT MATTER: A Photographic Atlas of the Immigrant Experience at the Museum of Chinese in America

Chien-An Yuan's "Untitled Film Still #12," 2011
(Courtesy the Artist)

WHAT: “America Through A Chinese Lens”

WHEN: Through September 10, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 11am-6pm, Thursday 11am-9pm.

WHERE: Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street (between Howard and Grand streets), New York.

WHY THIS SHOW MATTERS: The exhibition does extactly what its title promises: shine a light on American geography and society through the photographs of Chinese and Chinese-American artists. The unique show, organized by the Museum of Chinese in America (formerly the New York Chinatown History Project) features over 60 photographs by both fine art and documentary photographers, and non-artists, lumping voices from the museum’s varied collection into a diverse conglomerate in pursuit of the “American dream.” Separated into three sections, the social and physical landscape of the country is seen through haphazard snapshots, sweeping panoramas, and family portraits.

“Tourism and the American Landscape” juxtaposes the awe-inspired connection many feel in the presence of the country’s vast landscape, as opposed to the isolation of being a tourist in a foreign land. Ann Woo’s minimalist color studies (whose compositions focus on the rainbow-hued palette of the American landscape) recall with simplicity the elegance of Chinese scrolls.

Many of the photographs in “Alientation in Suburbia” document fragments of American pop culture, alongside the class and race issues that were prevalent in the 1950s. Jiajia Zhang’s dilapidated storfronts could be said to be a metaphor for the experiences of many immigrants upon settling in the U.S.: the American dream faded by the mundane reality of suburban living.

“Big City Noir” tracks the rise in urban immigrant living following the repealing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943. The crowded harmony of urban life is reflected in Chien-An Yuan’s hyper-saturated film stills, whose forced perspective drowned in fluorescent light is reminiscent of a the exaggerated scenery in video games – suggesting fiction rather than real life­.

Artist An Xiao will be completing a complimentary ongoing series throughout the duration of the exhibition by documenting and posting to Tumblr a live visual essay of her journey through the American West and Southwest. Her project brings the show’s voice full-circle to the present, helping to complete a picture of the country through the eyes of one of its largest immigrant populations.

To see photographs from the exhibition click the slide show