APAture 2017 Book Arts Showcase

Today we look back at last weekend’s APAture Book Arts Showcase, hosted by Kearny Street Workshop. You can see a bit of the event, and three of the artists, in our companion video on CatSynth TV.

In the video, we see a reading by featured artist Innosanto Nagara of his recent book A Night at the Planetarium, which introduces readers to the culture and history of Indonesia, and one particularly intense night under Indonesian military rule (while “the general” is clearly Suharto, he is not mentioned by name). It is partly a memoir of the author at a young age and relates the story of a crackdown on his father’s dissident plays. Nagara is although the author of the award-winning and quite delightful A is for Activist (we love the black cat on the cover).

Innosanto Nagara books

“Book Arts” covers quite a lot of territory in terms of discipline and media. There are formal, published books like Nagara’s, but also other print media like self-published zines. Mixed Rice Zines is the ongoing project of Jess Wu-O, and features voices that are often underrepresented, such as queer voices in the Asian American and mixed-race communities. One edition Queer Azn Musicians particularly spoke to me as a queer musician of South Asian descent.

The zines are self-published, as were many of the other pieces featured in the show. Bridge Ho presented these zines featuring her photography along with words by Michelle Velasquez-Potts. The published pieces are works of art, showing semi-abstract imagery on various printed materials including vellum.

Overall, however, most of the work in the show centered around illustration. Minnie Phan presented a variety of printed illustrations, including on cards, booklets, and her comic book They Call Us Viet Kieu, written after Phan visited Vietnam in 2013. You can hear her talk a bit about the experience in our CatSynth TV episode.

Minnie Phan

Similarly, we saw a variety of illustrated printed material from Cheez Hayama including these cat cards – each one is hand drawn and slightly different – and California activity book featuring our state bird.

Cheez Hayama

More traditional “comic books” were on display as well, including the Time Fiddler by Ellis Kim. The series, told as detailed and well drawn graphic novels, follows a young woman on an adventure through time travel, space, and romance. And of course, there is a cat.

And with books and graphic novels, we come full circle with This Asian American Life by Katie Quan, featuring the everyday adventures of an Asian-American protagonist. Parts of autobiographical from Quan’s experiences, but also includes shared experiences from friends as well as entirely imagined scenes.

Katie Quan - This Asian American Life

It was a well-attended show with many artists presenting – and selling – their work. We regret not being able to visit or include everyone. Congratulations to KSW and everyone involved on a great event.

APAture 2015: Music and Comics

Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2015 festival continued this past weekend with more showcases in multiple fields. I was able to attends parts of two of them, and share these brief notes.

The Music Showcase took place last Friday at Bindlestiff Studio in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco (it’s our home neighborhood at CatSynth). There was a wide range of musical styles present.

The evening opened with reggie-infused sounds and rhythms from Iridium.

Iridium

Next up was ebolabuddha, an intense metal band that featured reading of books in addition to the playing of instruments (quite loudly).

ebolabuddha

The band featured some familiar faces, including Eli Pontecorvo on bass/vocals and Mark Pino on drums with Steve Jong on guitar and vocals.

ebolabuddha

Combination of the forceful and physically driving music with the book readings (in addition to guest performers, everyone was invited to come up and read) was quite fun.

The tone and energy changed abruptly with MC a.K.aye (aka Ahmed Kap Animo), whose words with both playful and at times featured strong messages that resonated with many in the audience.

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Next was The Vibrant Things featuring Amy Dabalos on vocals. Dabalos had a fantastic and inspiring voice that worked well the group’s mixture of jazz, R&B and cabaret sounds. I also always enjoy seeing other groups with Nord keyboards.

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One of the more unique showcases of APAture is the Comics and Illustration showcase, which took place on Saturday at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

Comics and Illustration showcase

At first glance, the event has a nerdy vibe and many familiar styles and tropes of popular Asian comics. But many of the artists also featured strong messages in their work. Artist Bo explores queer and transgender identities in his comics. Pixelated follows the experience of a biological female passing as a male and suddenly being assumed to have strong technical skills, poking fun at gender stereotypes around technology.

Featured artist Thi Bui presented meticulously drawn art including her graphic novel The Best We Could Do, an “immigration epic” about her family. She also made drawings of visitors to the event as a fundraiser for Kearny Street Workshop.

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[© Kearny Street Workshop/ Shuntaro Ogata]

I particularly enjoyed Cecilia Wong’s colorful illustrations, many of which featured cats. I of course had to purchase a copy of one. I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

Cecilia Wong

Wong also gave a presentation of color, with tips on both theory and practice. It gave me a few thoughts for color in future graphic designs to complement my usual black&white styles.

Also present at the event was the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a “non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers.” I was not familiar with them, but on reflection I’m not surprised that many comics artist may need such defense, especially when the challenge traditional norms and authority (something that we at CatSynth wholeheartedly support).

Maira Kalman, Contemporary Jewish Museum

Today we visit another local exhibition that will be closing soon, Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) at the Contemporary Jewish Museum here in San Francisco. In addition to seeing the exhibition itself, I also attended the opening in July.

Kalman is perhaps best known for her many covers for The New Yorker magazine, as well as her illustrated blog for The New York Times. Indeed, looking at her many illustrations on paper in the exhibit, one of the first things that comes to mind is “these look like New Yorker covers”, both in the style of the illustrations and the satire of life and people in New York.

[Maira Kalman, New York, Grand Central Station, 1999, gouache and ink on paper. 15 3/8 x 22 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York.]

[Maira Kalman, Crosstown Boogie Woogie, 1995, gouache on paper, 15 3/8 x 11 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York. (Click to enlarge)]

These particular illustrations depict the life and people in New York’s transit, subways, commuter trains and such, and so have a particular resonance for me.  I did specifically recognize a few from The New Yorker, including the infamous “New Yorkistan” map, which renames various New York City neighborhoods:

[Maira Kalman, New York, Grand Central Station, 1999, gouache and ink on paper. 15 3/8 x 22 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York. (Click to enlarge)]

Many of the names in the map play on inside jokes about the stereotypical residents of boroughs or specific neighborhoods, rather than on the actual names themselves. I would have liked to see “Tribecastan”, as the name seems like it could in fact be from central Asia.

[Maira Kalman, Woman with Face Net, 2000, gouache on paper, 17 x 14 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York.]

The above work, Woman with Face Net, is the iconic work from the exhibit, and on opening night many of the female staff and volunteers at the museum wore similar hair nets as a tribute. It is interesting how the image uses the combination of red and black, which for me personally is quite powerful, especially in the context of female fashion and dress.

In addition to the works on paper for publication, the exhibition presented some of Kalman’s text and installations, which feature numerous household objects. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of this set of objects with the caption in the background. It was not clear of this combination was the work of the artist herself, or of the curators.

[Installation detail. Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. (Click to enlarge)]

There were also some older pieces from her long career, including this “remix” of former U.S. Presidents with new hairstyles.

[Maira Kalman, Presidents, 1978, graphite, ink, correction fluid, and paper collage on vellum, taped to board. 12 5/8 x 11 5/8 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York.]

Patriotic themes, at once both genuine and satirical, were a common theme among many of her works, and is the theme of one of her blogs at The New York Times, along with the scenes of life in New York. There are also scenes of her childhood in Israel – one image of a young girl in front of a Bauhaus building Tel Aviv was perhaps my favorite in the entire exhibition. She definitely has a soft spot for dogs, especially her dog Pete, who is presented very affectionately in many of the illustrations. Others were more abstract, still life of individual objects, or figures taken out of any environmental context. I did like this page of individual sketches that reduced many of the themes to icon form. Although her drawing style is quite different, it made me think of the William Leavitt exhibit I saw earlier this year.

[Maira Kalman, Endpaper (What Pete Ate), 2001, gouache on paper. 14 7/8 x 22 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York. (Click to enlarge)]

I also had the opportunity to attend a live discussion with Maira Kalman on the night of the opening. Above all, I recall her being quite funny – not surprising given her illustrations, but she specifically had that dry sense of humor I tend to appreciate. As a blogger, I did note how she described the medium with a bit of derision, even while she had embraced it. At the same time, she displayed a very sentimental side, when talking about her dogs, and her late husband Tibor Kalman. And her recommendations on how to pack lightly for traveling were simultaneously practical and romantic – something to keep in mind for future trips abroad.

One interesting question that arose during was whether this could be considered a “Jewish exhibition”. While not originally conceived as such, it has taken on that identity in part because of the institutions where it being presented. After leaving the CJM, it be at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles, and then at the Jewish Museum in New York. There is rarely a satisfactory way to answer a question like that, whether the heritage in question is Jewish or anything else. For example, similar questions arose for Stella Zhang’s 0 Viewpoint about whether it was “Chinese art”.

Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) will still be open at the Contemporary Jewish Museum until October 26.