USC Pacific Asia Museum | Women of Color Shaping Social Change in ‘Off Kilter: Power and Pathos’

"Off Kilter: Power and Pathos" exhibition is on view from July 22 - September 4, 2022

PHOTO: Tina Kistinger | South News | Off Kilter: Power and Pathos exhibit at USC Pacific Asia Museum

Nestled in the heart of Pasadena, the USC Pacific Asia Museum creates inspiring exhibitions to promote the understanding of art, history and culture of Pacific Asia. With most of the gallery space devoted to exhibition programs that connect the past and present, the newest exhibition, Off Kilter: Power and Pathos, is right in line with the museum’s dedication to represent the diversity and diasporas of Asia and the Pacific Islands.

At first glance, the exhibition is filled with contemporary art featuring the works of Sandra Low, Keiko Fukazawa, and Kim-Trang Tran. Each artist sharing their adventurous and experimental attitudes towards their chosen mediums and their ability to provide social commentary that is relevant and noteworthy. Familiar imagery and cultural artistic techniques can be found in their works, which reminds the viewer of history’s continued relevance.

But when you take a few more moments to closely examine each piece, you’re knocked off kilter. What seemed to be in perfect balance is not and your perspective will be forever changed after seeing this exhibition.

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Sandra Low, A VERY CIVIL CHEESE, 2019. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Sandra Low pulls from her personal experiences growing up in Southern California and examines the push and pull of cultures across multiple generations through a lens of humor and sentiment. Her ironic view of the world is palpable and only when you analyze each piece do you truly understand how she balances the personal with the poignant.

In A Very Civil Cheese, two delicate tea cups are on display in a rocky seaside landscape with a circular repetitive pattern obscuring the cloudy sky. But what is the yellowy gooey substance covering the tea cups? Its cheese. But why? We, as Americans, have a love affair with cheese and it’s not a staple in traditional Asian diets. Her “Cheesy Paintings” series calls attention to the contrasting components of American life – seduction, illusion of prosperity, gluttony, and kitsch. These paintings rendered as familiar scenes merge the expected with the unexpected.

Keiko Fukazawa, PERCEPTION PLATES (MONEY), 2014. Porcelain, glaze. Courtesy of the artist.

Keiko Fukazawa is known for her poignant sculptures that often incorporate traditional Asian motifs while simultaneously providing social commentary to question the systems in which we participate. Born and raised in Japan, she has lived in the United States for almost forty years. Her works explore gun violence, bullying, rebellion, sexual abuse, anxiety, and identity.

In her Perception Plates and Peacemaker series, she explores how her multi-year residency in Jingdezhen, China inspired a burst of creative energy that produced a few works on display in Off Kilter. The Money plate is layered with meaning as with the other plates in this series. She explores and experiments with the old and the new, Asian and Western elements, and our modern hybrid culture. The juxtaposition of a traditionally decorated plate rim with a color blindness test technique as the plate center is intriguing. Fukazawa is challenging you to first find the hidden word and secondly, to explore the connection between traditional and contemporary cultures.

Kim-Trang Tran, Stills from MOVEMENTS: BATTLES AND SOLIDARITY, 2020. Three channel video installation, custom-made screens. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by LENS: Photography Council, 2021.

Kim-Trang Tran creates multimedia artworks that challenge the viewer to question how they perceive the world through the influence of history. Tran’s experience as a Vietnamese War refugee who immigrated to the United States at age nine have been central to her body of work.

Movements: Battles and Solidarity is a large-scale three-channel video installation projected on handmade screens featuring images that explore the connections between three significant events between 1972-74. Images and clips of The Battle of Versailles in 1973, the Vietnam ‘Napalm Girl’ in 1972, and the Farah Manufacturing Strike in 1972 are shown simultaneously on three screens. These events spotlight how the Civil Rights movement collided with high fashion, labor unrest in the garment industry, and the Vietnam War to reveal how women challenged power structures in the effort to create autonomy.

A museum exhibition is nothing without attendees. The artworks showcased in this exhibition challenge you to look past the simplicity and contemplate the uncomfortable truths in society. These artists created art to prompt conversations and it’s in our best interests to continue what they started.