Asian and Asian American Artists in Kansas City 

Priya Suresh Kambli (b. 1975, India; American) “Buttons for Eyes” (2016-2022), archival inkjet prints and flour, dimensions variable (courtesy of the artist. photo © 2022 the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

From the exhibit “Found in Translation” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

At The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, eight Kansas City area artists who come from places across Asia examine some universally common experiences — memories, home and the transitory nature of life — although some of those experiences may resonate more acutely for artists of transnationality. As seen in the exhibit “Found in Translation: Explorations by 8 Contemporary Artists,” separation, belonging and identity coalesce into sometimes comfortable and sometimes disquieted visions of self and place. Co-curated by Ling-en Lu, curator, Chinese art, and Stephanie Fox Knappe, senior curator of American Art, “Found in Translation” is the second exhibition in the museum’s KC Art Now initiative, celebrating local artists.

In Priya Suresh Kambli’s “Buttons for Eyes” photography series, she alters photos, often by obscuring the faces of her subjects: A woman holds an infant, women pose in traditional garb, a family portrait barely reveals the family. The title refers to her mother’s query: Is her daughter really seeing the world as it is or seeing what she wants to see? Kambli questions how her own perceptions and practices are altered by our country’s current anti-immigrant climate. She also incorporates a small sculpture in which she stencils in flour — a homely kitchen staple she commonly uses in work and everyday life — the sentence “Baba, I am working hard,” trying to reassure her father.

Kathy Liao (b. 1984, Taiwanese American), “Returning” (2022), detail of site specific installation: charcoal, collage, gesso on canvas, graphite, fixative spray, sanded debris, and monotype on eight BFK papers, dimensions variable (courtesy of the artist. photo © 2022 the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

Kathy Liao’s work, which typically centers on the immigrant family experience, comprises an installation including a sculpted figure of her grandmother, affirming their relationship corporeally, culturally and spiritually. Connections to loved ones are palliative against the alienation and displacement from family, friends and traditions. The installation’s backdrop includes a family unit partially obscured, as if in a dream, by graffiti and abstraction.

In Heinrich Toh’s monoprints and lithography “From the Roots . . . That’s Rarely Seen,” disparate imagery accretes and speaks to interconnectivity and confluences. Like his compatriots, for Toh rituals are a connector to the past and to home. The images in his prints include Asian architectural features, a Mahjong tile and other imagery that speaks to a personal memory or story. Positioned on a black wall, Toh’s prints feel suspended in time and space, and the fragments that circle his framed prints may suggest free-floating memories, cut loose from any boundaries.

The gentle staccato of Noriko Ebersole’s monumental “Self-Portrait Diary: One-a-Day Drawings for 10 Years” derives from her scores of tiny, floating-head self-portraits, in which her expressions often suggest the ennui and the frustrations of everyday living. She describes each portrait in brief English, Japanese or a combination of the two. 2.22.10’s taciturn expression and clipped text reveals little: “Cold Day. Played Yoga. Cooked Dinner,” and yet seems to truly express an average day. Ebersole’s sense of being, constructed over the course of 10 years, never seems to waver; she presents the self she wishes to reveal, seemingly rooted in the everyday, banal, and yet fascinating. She becomes a universal and deeply humanizing figure, yet utterly and consciously individualized.

These artists find poetry in repetition. In “Continuity,” Hong Chun Zhang uses Chinese fine style ink painting; her meditative repetition of strands of hair becomes two intertwined tree-like figures that hold aloft a small, childlike figure. The three are bound together by their familial traditions and their rootedness in the American Midwest. Attached to scrolls, the painting unfurls and assertively pushes into our physical space, as if to take root within the museum space.

Yoonmi Nam’s porcelains are similarly poetic multiples. Slip casting plastic containers used for eggs, takeout food and other perishables, Nam focuses on the containers’ inevitably temporal life. Simultaneously she emphasizes, by comparison, the relative permanence of the porcelain and the graceful elegance traditional Korean celadon glaze imparts to these objects. By physically and conceptually disrupting its time and trajectory, she provides trash a beautiful afterlife.

Hyeyoung Shin (b. 1973, South Korea; working in the United States), “Flying High” (2022), color pencil on cast paper sculpture, 38 1/2 × 18 1/2 × 4”  

Hyeyoung Shin’s “Red and Blue Consequences and Flying High” tell stories of human risk. Shin casts a Korean traditional paper Jiho-gibeop, (like papier-mâché) in decorative antique frames on which she draws her nude figures. The women, typically based on her own body, performatively dangle mid-air from acrobatic straps. These healthy bodies are powerful cyphers; in some instances, they seem to press the boundaries of the frames that contain them. They are confident and strong and yet also suggest the vulnerability implicit in risk-taking and life’s complexities.

Shreepad Narayan Joglekar’s work also suggests the human condition’s uncertainty, often focusing on the immigrant experience as one of contradictions. Cryptic and intellectualized, “Tempora Incognito” comprises prints of objects, most of which do not exist in reality, but rather are visualizations of sound to represent a landscape. Some images are of three-dimensional objects he has created by converting photographic images into objects. The cassette-tape sonic component amplifies the existential questions posed by Joglekar’s dark imagery; it is eerie and indeterminate and seems to emerge from unknowable fissures.

Particular narrative strategies of repetition, the body in relation to itself and others, autobiography, memories of home and questions of permanence are woven through the works of these eight artists, underlying the overarching theme of what it means to be Asian in this place and time.

“Found in Translation: Explorations by 8 Contemporary Artists” continues at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak St., through Aug. 20, 2023. For more information, www.nelson-atkins.org.

all photos by Gabe Hopkins 

Yoonmi Nam (b. 1973, South Korea; working in the United States), “Keeping” (2022),
slip-cast porcelain with celadon glaze, dimensions variable
(courtesy of the artist. photo © 2022 the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)
Heinrich Toh (b. 1972, Singapore; American working in the United States), “From the Roots . . .That’s Rarely Seen” (2022),
monoprint and paper lithography on Rives BFK paper, dimensions variable
(courtesy of the artist. photo © 2022 the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)
Shreepad Narayan Joglekar (b. 1976, India; immigrant worker), “Tempora Incognita” (2022),
archival pigmented prints and stereo sound, dimensions variable
(courtesy of the artist. photo © 2022 the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)
Noriko Ebersole (b. 1949, Japan; working in the United States), “Self-Portrait Diary: One-a-Day Drawings for 10 Years,
2003 (2005-2013), graphite, charcoal, color pencil, conté, and ink on paper, dimensions variable
(courtesy of the artist. photo © 2022 the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)
Dana Self

Dana Self is an arts writer who was a contemporary art curator for more than 13 years at museums in Kansas, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Missouri, including Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. She has organized roughly 100 exhibitions of emerging and midcareer artists. She is also marketing director for UMKC Conservatory.

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