May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month—a celebration of the cultures, traditions, and histories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States that began in 1978. Initially, this was a week-long celebration enacted by Congress, but in 1990 this recognition was extended to span the entire month. May is significant because the first Japanese person immigrated to the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and the transcontinental railroad, made possible by the labor of Chinese immigrants, was completed on May 10, 1869.
The history of North America continues to be shaped by the stories of immigrants from Asia and the Pacific, and by the native people of the Pacific Islands. Although the earliest Asian immigrants came from China, Japan, India, and Korea, immigration reforms linked to civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s brought many more communities to the United States, including Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Indonesians, Hmong, and others from South and Central Asia. This month also recognizes the challenges faced by these communities and their contributions to the American story.
In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and recognition of the contributions of our AAPI communities, the J. Paul Getty Museum presents an online exhibition featuring six contemporary artists drawn from the Photographs collection.
This selection includes artists Soo Kim, Sze Tsung Nicolás Leong, Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao, Christine Nguyen, Kunié Sugiura, and Hiroshi Watanabe. Each artist shares insights about their experiences making photographs. Reflecting diverse approaches and motivations, their work ranges from a focus on personal narratives and recording transnational histories, to an exploration of experimental practices.
“The twelve works featured in this online exhibition were acquired during the past decade and, while none was acquired specifically because of the artist’s heritage, it is great to see them together in this context and to experience the diversity of their narratives and locales,” said Virginia Heckert, curator in the Department of Photographs. “Leong traveled to his ancestral homeland; Kim and Watanabe made series in foreign countries that fascinated them for specific reasons; Liao and Sugiura created works in their adopted city of New York; like Sugiura, Nguyen worked within the confines of her studio.”
“This selection provides only a small glimpse of the rich and diverse ways that artists who identify as members of the AAPI community approach the medium of photography,” said Arpad Kovacs, assistant curator in the Department of Photographs. “The Department of Photographs is actively building a collection that aims to tell stories from multiple perspectives and to highlight traditionally underrepresented narratives.”
Learn more about these artists and their work in the new Google Arts and Culture exhibition: Contemporary Voices in Asian American Photography.