In this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle, David Henry Hwang, whose most recent play, Yellow Face, is making its Bay Area premier, talks about race and multiculturalism. Here is a bit of what he had to say:
Whenever we talk about race or culture in this country, the discussion usually immediately becomes quite rigid, and people go to their established positions and become entrenched there. When that happens, there’s no real room for exchange, for dialogue, for really opening one’s mind to other perspectives. And humor, it seems to me, does allow for that possibility. It allows for people to relax, to open their minds, because when you’re laughing at something, then you wonder, well why am I laughing at it, it gives you an opportunity to rethink some assumptions.
The Asian Art Museum has recently been at the receiving end of some biting humor. An anonymous person (or persons), concealing identity through a privacy service, has created an imitation of the Asian Art Museum website, giving it the domain name asiansart.org and calling it a parody.
While the fake website is humorous in tone, it has a serious intent. It amounts to a critique of the museum’s Lords of the Samurai exhibition, which it suggests romanticizes the samurai and glamorizes militarism. The site details various negative aspects of Japan’s warrior rule, which it says the museum downplays or fails to address. It also makes the more general accusation that the museum panders to orientalist fantasies and stereotypes in order to profit from them monetarily (we are a nonprofit organization).
Mr. Hwang was making a point about humor as a vehicle to open dialogue. Unfortunately, because of their anonymity, we can’t directly engage the authors of the fake website. So let’s use this blog post to discuss issues of stereotyping and orientalizing. We would especially be interested to hear the viewpoints of those who have visited the samurai exhibition. We are always eager to improve. Perhaps in this way we can, in Mr. Hwang’s words, provide “room for exchange, for dialogue, for really opening one’s mind to other perspectives.”
Image: Francis Jue and Hoon Lee in David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face, detail of a photo by Joan Marcus.
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