Beyond Exotic: Asian American Artists Retell Ai Weiwei's Story

July 24, 2014 3:02 PM

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Beyond Exotic: Asian American Artists Retell Ai Weiwei's Story

We are taught most of our lives to be law-abiding citizens, to bite our tongue against authority and that meritocracy is pure. Add the racial stereotypes and cultural expectations of Asian to that, and the result becomes that Asian Americans are subjugated to being very, very submissive. However, contrary to the Model Minority Myth, the ascension of one of the world's most successful and famous artists, Ai Weiwei, is attributed to his outspoken resistance against the corrupt Chinese government and support for freedom of the Internet. As I view Ai Weiwei's current solo exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum, I question the tendency of institutions to frame Asian faces as exotic. Yes, Weiwei was born and raised in China, but the fact that he spent a formative 12 years in New York City as a struggling artist and hanging out with Allen Ginsberg is often overlooked. Can we view Asian artists as Asian American if they have lived and worked an influential 12 years in the U.S.? Or are people more comfortable packaging the artist as "exotic"?

Like many artists who move to New York with big dreams, Ai Weiwei spent 12 years in New York City (1981-1993) selling street portraits, working odd jobs, photographing the city (when he felt he had no chance succeeding in NYC galleries as a painter) and attending poetry events (where he met and befr...

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