Critics Page In Conversation
Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander with Dominique Fung
Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander: What is the biggest question you are internally facing in your artistic practice right now?
Dominique Fung: I have been thinking about how to make an expansive art practice beyond just painting and ceramics. I am not sure I have arrived at a solution yet, but I have always admired artists who are able to articulate their ideas through film and text. This was such a thoughtful question, I would like to pose a similar question back to you. What is the biggest question you are currently facing internally in your curatorial practice?
Alexander: I guess my answer is really a question, as the role of the curator is evolving and there are many, relatively new, demands being placed on the rolewhat is the primary function of a curator? To preserve, care for, organize the display of, and interpret objects? To bring communities together and bridge divides? To build a collection? To correct systems of injustice in the art world and be a public voice? In my position, I also wonder about how others view the term “Asian American,” as I am actively building a collection of this material. To what extent does this term matter to you, if at all?
Fung: I know the term "Asian American" was coined relatively recently in 1968 to unify the Asian diasporas in America. The word "Asian American" had been around for 20 years before I was in my youth; I vividly remember growing up in Canada, having been called oriental on a consistent basis. Even at a young age, I loathed the word and understood its connotations with the "other,” I know an overarching term like "Asian American" can be problematic in its own way due to its lack of specificity. Still, I personally like it and see its value in carving our own place/space (historically erased) and aligning ourselves with other BIPOC folks.
Since it's AAPI month, I find my inbox is being flooded with email interviews asking me what it means to be "Asian American"? How are Asian women portrayed in the media? How does being" Asian American" affect my work? How do we fight against violence toward Asian women? Seemingly innocuous questions to the interviewer, but giving a comprehensive answer requires a lot of labour on the artist's part and cannot be accomplished in a short-format interview. From your perspective, as a curator and art historian acquiring works of the Asian diaspora at the Cantor Arts Center —do you acquire works from artists who aren’t directly referencing their culture/identity? And how do you identify if someone is in this “Asian American” category?
Alexander: We acquire broadly—for Marci Kwon and I, it has never been about limiting definitions, but being open to the heterogeneity of the Asian diaspora. No artist should feel obligated to make work about their cultural identity or bear the burden of representation. It’s always been about supporting makers and their visions.