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Serve the People
By Ryan Wong
Serve the People: The Asian American Movement in New York
A proposal by Ryan Wong
Serve the People: The Asian American Movement in New York charts a history of Asian American activism, organizing, and cultural production in the 1970s, the first exhibition to focus on New York as a center of this national phenomenon. Through posters, leaflets, newspapers, film, and music, Serve the People shows how Asian American identity was shaped by reclaimed histories, revolutionary politics, feminist awareness, third worldism, and community organizing. The culture created by young activists and artists in the movement embodied their ideals, speaking to the excitement and urgency of the time.
In 1970s New York, one might have heard the folk group A Grain of Sand sing about “the struggle,” passed by a mural celebrating Asian American histories, or attended a screening of a documentary on garment workers in Chinatown. I Wor Kuen and Worker’s Viewpoint Organization distributed their revolutionary messages through newspapers and study groups, while community organizations like Asian Americans for Equal Employment galvanized Chinatown into mass protests. Basement Workshop served as an umbrella for artists’ projects as well as groups like Chinatown Health Fair, Asian American Resource Center, and the Amerasia Creative Arts Program.
In recovering and presenting this past, Serve the People cuts against the stereotype of political apathy among Asian Americans, and offers a radical history for today’s activists to build upon. The political horizon for Movement activists was limitless, whether they worked towards community control, artistic self-expression, or political overthrow. This energy is palpable in the culture they produced. In light of the great immigration of Asians to America since the 1960s and the looming questions of America’s economic and political relation to Asia, these works remind us of a moment of pride and revolution for a newly-formed identity.
About the Curator
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Ryan Lee Wong lives in Brooklyn, where he connects Asian American movement histories to the present. Ryan organized the exhibitions Serve the People at Interference Archive and Roots at Chinese American Museum. He has presented talks at Brooklyn Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Asia Art Archive, Independent Curators International, and numerous universities. He has worked as and exhibitions administrator at the Metropolitan Museum, Assistant Curator at Museum of Chinese in America, and Managing Director for Kundiman. He currently serves on the Board of the Jerome Foundation. He regularly writes arts criticism and exhibition reviews for outlets such as Hyperallergic, T Magazine, and the Village Voice, and has contributed to catalogues or anthologies for the New Museum, Temporary Art Review, and Social Practice Queens.