On the center’s 40th anniversary, an exhibition of student work reflects on the histories and futures of the Asian diaspora
Since its founding in 1983, the Asian American Center (AAC) has served Tufts’ Asian and Asian American communities by fostering a supportive environment for students. On view in the Slater Concourse Gallery, the exhibition Our Histories, Our Futures is a celebration of the center’s rich legacy, featuring work by current students of various Asian and American identities.
Tufts Now sat down with five of the artists to learn more about their work and their stories.
"I made this piece for a drawing class where I was assigned to make a portrait of everyone we know, which was a daunting task. I decided to do my family and its history, drawing myself and my family through my grandparents’ generation. I drew this with ink and blended it with saliva which ended up being very interesting to me—this idea of leaving fingerprints on images of my family members and having that as a physical representation of heritage. The title came from a letter my mother’s father had left her—he said their last name means “from the void.” I think it’s quite intriguing to find yourself at the end of your lineage since there’s so much to look back on. My family has had such diverse experiences that will always be a mystery to me, but I tried to reconstruct them through this drawing."
—Anneke Chan, A24
“I started taking photos of my mother around three years ago when the pandemic began. I noticed a lot of people were struggling with their confidence and sense of self due to being so isolated. Through photography, I wanted to show her the way I saw her—as someone strong and beautiful. We collaborated throughout the entire process—from her outfits to her poses—but I realized I’d never taken photos of us together, and I wanted to highlight the ways she inspired me growing up. The title emphasizes how, even though we’re two separate individuals, we’re very connected and ultimately rely on each other for support. Earlier generations like hers have gotten the Asian American community to where it is today, and they rely on us to carry their work into the future.”
—Reina Matsumoto, A23
“This piece was heavily connected to my upbringing. I moved to Ohio when I was five, but before that, I was completely surrounded by a Chinese community, so I kind of lost the sense of belonging and identity I had before. It was such a culture shock to instead be around only white people, and, for the first time, I learned what it felt like to be othered and ostracized because of the way I looked. Through my art, I’ve tried to reconcile and undo the insecurities I developed from that experience. The title also connects to this idea of me learning how to be by myself. I used mixed media to create a self-portrait, finding whatever I had on hand at my house and blending it together, layering tin foil, polymer clay, and paint."
—Michelle Zhang, A24
"I’ve always wanted to make a piece that combined Asian and Western cultural symbols, and I used the triptych, which has been used in the Catholic tradition to tell stories, to build my own myth. I began with painting a background of waves and koi fish, which are commonly depicted in Asian art, with my hands at the center to represent my entrance into the United States as an international student. The middle panel depicts a red sky with a hole in it, alluding to the Chinese myth of Nüwa, the goddess who mended the broken sky and is the mother of all Chinese people. I explore the new landscape of my identity as I merge being Chinese with being a student in America. The last panel represents the internal conflict I feel about my different identities—the tree is made of vines tangling into each other, representing my entanglement in my surroundings."
—Alice Fang, A26
"My parents are from Suriname and for a long time, I didn’t make art about it. But last summer I went there and noticed something my parents never mentioned which was this culture of keeping birds—no one had cats or dogs. I wondered where to even begin with this complicated history I’ve inherited and this painting was a fun way for me to explore these cultural traditions. The practice also has interesting gender implications since only men keep birds; there’s one in my aunt’s house but it’s my uncle’s. It’s said that men take better care of these pet birds than their wives and it’s very competitive; they go to parks on the weekend and have their birds sing. This painting is just the beginning of my attempt to merge my own interest in art and this rich history I’m becoming more familiar with."
—Jen Simons, A24