Archive of Posts by Guest Poster

The Asian Art Museum seeks to engage with the wider community; as part of this engagement we sometimes invite guests to post on our blog.

Mochi Pounding: A Reflection

Mochi pounding 2014

I think I’ve always taken mochi for granted. Mochi: the sticky, yummy childhood treat; something that my great-aunt always has at her house for Christmas. But I’d never given much thought to actually making mochi until I heard that the museum was hosting the mochi pounding celebration to ring in the new year. When I told my parents, they started to rave about the time they pounded mochi together in Japan, so I was excited for the day. We started in Samsung Hall, Polaroid cameras ready, looking on over the crowd of people. Little children bordered the front of the crowd, eagerly straining forward towards the demonstration. The members of Kagami Kai were all dressed in colorful red and blue robes. Happy colors for a happy celebration. I felt slightly out of place in my black outfit which was too somber a color for the occasion.

The demonstration started with an artist painting an ancient character for horse in front of the crowd. Seeing this performance was fascinating as it celebrated the new year by painting an old character. At the Asian, mixing old and new seems to hold a special place.

When the members of Kagami Kai actually started pounding the mochi, the room filled with the beat of drums, the ringing of bells, the happy sounds of voices chanting along, and of course, the deliciously nutty smell of the mochi. They were so enthusiastic while pounding the mochi, it was hard not to start clapping to the beat. As audience members volunteered, I sensed such gusto in hitting a mass of glutinous rice over and over again with a wooden mallet. Kids looked hesitant when they first stepped up but soon this feeling transformed into total bliss (I guess it’s not everyday that kids actually are allowed to play with their food). At the end of the demonstration, everyone lined up to pick up some mochi to eat. I’m not sure if it was the excitement of the celebration or the mochi itself, but the result, my little mochi souvenir, tasted amazing.

Check out our video from our 2012 ceremony:

Written by Nat Gable.

Artists Drawing Club: Between, with Amy M. Ho

Artist Amy M. Ho talks about her Artists Drawing Club:

For the March edition of the Artists Drawing Club, I led a group of museum visitors on a sensory exploration of the space.  I started out explaining my own interest in the subject matter.  Most of my artwork is installation based and deals with our understanding and experience of the spaces and environments we inhabit.  Our relationship to space is key to our emotional and physical experiences but we often take it for granted.   In walking through the museum, I was hoping that the group would learn something new about their own experience of space and see how lighting, architecture and sound work together to choreograph our experiences.

After the introduction and as an icebreaker of sorts, we each mentioned a favorite space or an experience with space that we’ve had.  It was great to hear how experiences of space can shape our memories.

Next, I gave a short tour of the spaces that stood out to me in the South Court area of the museum.  We looked at some of the various shadows cast by the light coming in from above.  We closed our eyes and listened to the sounds echoing though the atrium.  We went to the back of the escalator to a nook that is often ignored.  Finally, we explored the corridor behind the museum store.

After the short tour, each person was assigned to a specific part of the museum and was asked to spend the next twenty minutes there observing the lights, sounds, architecture and anything else that stood out to them.  Each person was asked to sketch, photograph or write about what they saw.  Below are some of the photos and sketches.

Carey Lin

Carey Lin was assigned to the back staircase. Here’s her graph of the sound in the space.

Jamie Emerick

Jamie Emerick was up in the third floor galleries. Here is a sketch she made of an art piece and its shadows.

Dave Lyons

Dave Lyons was assigned to the Chinese Jade Gallery on the third floor. Here’s his image of the underside of the display.

Brandon Drew Holmes

Brandon Drew Holmes stayed downstairs in the South Court. Here is a sketch he made of how the light changed.

Amy Ho

I assigned myself to the escalators and the landing at the top of the escalators. Here is a view of the building across the street through the streaked window.

Owen Lawrence

Owen Lawrence went up to the Loggia. Here is a sketch of the architecture.

Marc Mayer

Marc Mayer stayed in the Contemplative Alcove in the Japan Galleries. Here is his sketch of the floating wall.






SFUSD Arts Festival at the Asian Art Museum


“What’s this?  Student work in a museum?  What a wonderful way to support art in schools!” commented a visitor who’d come to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit and discovered the San Francisco Unified School District’s Arts Festival at the Asian Art Museum.  The Asian Art Museum had the extraordinary opportunity this spring to host the 27th annual SFUSD Arts Festival from March 2nd through March 10th.  The Arts Festival is the culmination of a collaborative effort between the SFUSD School District and the Asian Art Museum to fulfill the district’s Arts Education Master Plan “for equality and access in arts education for every student, in every school, every day.”  Public school arts teachers from across the city submitted student work to the Asian Art Museum, resulting in a week of vibrant art installations, poetry readings, screening of student films, and musical performances.



Student Terracotta Warriors.

After a year of planning, the actual installation of the festival brought museum curators, exhibition and preparation staff, education department staff, and museum and SFUSD volunteers together to showcase 500 two-dimensional and three-dimensional student pieces.  Display cases were pulled out of the basement, given a fresh coat of paint, and student work curated for display.  Over 50 student groups performed in Samsung Hall during the festival, showcasing styles from taiko drumming to choral music.  Meanwhile, yellow school buses brought over 4,000 students from city schools to see and participate in the Arts Festival.  “This is what education is all about,” stressed SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza at the festival’s opening ceremony.



Professional Development Work Honoring Legacy. Credit: Marissa Kunz

One of the major themes of the Terracotta Warriors exhibit is legacy, and museum staff applied this theme to the Arts Festival to showcase and preserve the legacy of San Francisco teachers and administrators in art education.   Professional development throughout the week for San Francisco principals, elementary, and secondary school teachers created an opportunity for district and museum staff to dialogue about the connection between arts education and the museum’s collection.   During the awards evening,  Dreamcatcher Awards honored individuals who inspire the educational community with “the power to capture dreams.”  Eight individuals from local schools and arts programs were recognized, including: Melecio Magdaluyo as Artist Partner, Elizabeth Brodersen as Community Arts Partner, Jan Link as Administrator, Eric Guthertz as Principal, Carla Lehmann and Jackey Toor as Credentialed Arts Teachers, and Sandra Berger and Jeff Larson as Arts Coordinators.


Redding March By City Hall

Redding March By City Hall

In collaboration with the Arts Festival, Japanese artist Takayuki Yamamoto brought his “Children’s Pride” project to both Rosa Parks Elementary School and Redding Elementary School in San Francisco.  Yamamoto’s artistic process includes working with school children from around the world on co-created art.  Students worked with Yamamoto to identify a personal desire for change to make their world a better place, representing their desire on a placard.  Students then took their placards, advocating everything from “No Guns!” and “Be a Better Reader!” to “Turn into a Fairy!” on a protest march with their classmates to the Asian Art Museum.  “It is okay for them to be different, to want different things, and to advocate for them,” says Yamamoto.  The ability to share their personal perspective through art is something Yamamoto’s students will take with them from their experience of the SFUSD Arts Festival.  And every student who visited the SFUSD Arts Festival at the Asian Art Museum will take home with them the importance of art in public education.  “Just as athletes need to exercise every day, children need to make art every day,” concludes Ruth Asawa, San Francisco arts educator.

Wisdoms of the East & West: A meditation on the murals of Jean Charlot and Affandi


Wisdoms of the East and West is an animated video created in 2010 by artist Ben Wood and puppeteer Michael Schuster to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the East-West Center in Honolulu Hawaii. The video is based on the flagship Charlot and Affandi murals in Imin Center-Jefferson Hall at the East West Center.

In keeping with the East-West Center’s mandate to promote better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the Pacific region, the video shows Semar, the Javanese shadow puppet on a voyage from East to West. The video’s soundtrack is a fusion of Indonesian and western music and was performed by musicians Annie Reynolds and Made Widana.

Ben Wood is a British-born visual artist. A recipient of the California Governors Award for Historic Preservation, his work has been shown Internationally, at the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City, the London Jewish Museum, and the East West Center in Hololulu. Since 2004 he has carried out over 5 large scale video projections onto Coit Tower in San Francisco.

Shanghai Film Series: Chinese Cinema Legend Ruan Lingyu

This Sunday the Asian Art Museum will be screening two films in a tribute to Ruan Lingyu, the legendary Shanghai film star. Although Ruan was not the most popular star of her day (that honor went to Butterfly Wu, who was elected “Empress of Film” by the city’s fervent moviegoers), her suicide on March 8, 1935 at the age of 25 bestowed Ruan with an immortality that has made her the undisputed icon of Chinese silent cinema. Since her life is well documented elsewhere, and also the subject of Sunday’s second feature, I won’t repeat it here. But I will encourage you to check out the biography written by Richard J. Meyer, Ruan Ling-Yu: The Goddess of Shanghai, which comes packaged with a DVD of The Goddess (1935), her best and most famous film. You can order it from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Read more

Shanghai Film Series: High Times to Revolution

Celestial beauty Gong Li in Shanghai Triad

This coming Sunday, the Asian Art Museum will be screening a double feature — Shanghai Triad and Two Stage Sisters — that provides a glimpse, both on and off the screen, of the violence and social injustice that lay behind the glamorous facade of “High Times” Shanghai and the heroic mask of Revolutionary China.

Shanghai Triad (1995) depicts the power struggles of the city’s criminal underworld through the innocent eyes of a young country bumpkin employed to serve the mistress of Shanghai’s top gangster. While sometimes considered one of Zhang Yimou’s lesser works, the film is quite compelling when seen in the cultural and historical context afforded by the current exhibition.

The film’s gang boss is based on Du Yuesheng, a native son who rose through the ranks of the notorious Green Gang to become the most powerful man in pre-Communist Shanghai. Don’t miss the hanging-scroll portrait of “Big-Eared Du” and fellow gangster “Pockmarked Huang” on display in the exhibit. It provides an amusingly self-reverential counterpoint to the film’s brutal portrayal. As for Gong Li, who plays the gang lord’s glorified sing-song girl, she looks just like one of those radiant “celestial” beauties depicted in Shanghai’s popular calendar art, several fine examples of which can also be seen in the show.

Shanghai Triad: portrait of a tortured artist

For me, the most fascinating character is the silent, but ever watchful, country boy whose dream of finding a better life in Shanghai becomes a cruel nightmare. I can’t help but see him as a surrogate for director Zhang Yimou. During the film’s production, not only was Zhang under intense government scrutiny because of his previous film, To Live (1994), but he was also on the verge of a breakup with his muse and lover Gong Li.

Seen in this light, the final scene of Shanghai Triad is a haunting metaphor for the intense powerlessness Zhang must have felt at that time.

Sunday’s second feature is an inspired choice to follow Shanghai Triad. While Zhang Yimou was censured for his portrayal of the Cultural Revolution in To Live, Xie Jin and his film Two Stage Sisters (1964) were actual victims of that mad era. Now regarded as one of the best Chinese films of all time, Two Stage Sisters was initially branded a “poisonous weed” and — except for select screenings to criticize the film — it remained unseen by the general public until 1979. For the crime of advocating the reconciliation of social classes, Xie Jin was denounced at a mass rally of more than 100,000 people. Although Xie himself survived the Cultural Revolution, his parents were not so lucky. His mother and father both committed suicide.

Two Stage Sisters: sisterhood is powerful

A revolutionary melodrama, Two Stage Sisters follows the personal trials and tribulations of two opera performers against the backdrop of China’s struggle for liberation. United during hard times, the women choose different paths once they achieve fame and fortune in Shanghai. One retires and marries a man she doesn’t love for the promise of a life of comfort, while the other awakens to the injustice around her and organizes the city’s female opera workers. Thanks to Xie Jin’s abiding humanism and emotional sensitivity, the film never succumbs to mindless didacticism or cardboard characterization. While certain scenes, such as the final conversation between the two women, are evidence of outside interference, the heart of the film remains intact: a personal love strong enough to weather the storms of life.

“Green water goes through numerous mountains”
[from the film’s opening song]

Let me end by calling attention to the brief but incredibly moving performance by Shangguan Yunzhu as the film’s fading opera star. Shangguan Yunzhu was a popular actress during 1940s. (Look for her on the video monitor in the exhibit’s “High Times” section in a scene from the 1949 film Crows and Sparrows). It’s rumored that she had a brief affair with Mao Tse-tung which led to her persecution during the Cultural Revolution by Mao’s wife — and former film actress — Jiang Qing. In 1968, four years after her final role in Two Stage Sisters, Shangguan Yunzhu jumped from the window of her apartment building, the Normandie. Some say that her ghost, and those of the many others who also leaped to their death, still haunts the historic French Concession building.

Veteran actress Shangguan Yunzhu’s last goodbye

— Contributed by Dave Wells, who writes for Soft Film: Vintage Chinese Cinema.

Shanghai Dumpling Destination

The steamed dumpling known as xiao long bao, described so evocatively by Olivia Wu elsewhere on this website, is synonymous with Shanghai, and for generations of Shanghainese eating xiao long bao was synonymous with a visit to one particular establishment, the Nanxiang Mantou Dian (Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant). Here, in the historic Yu Garden area of Shanghai, in a second-floor dining room overlooking the nine-turn bridge and the mid-lake teahouse of blue willow China pattern fame, whole feasts are made from nothing more than stacks of dumpling-filled bamboo steamers, accompanied by small bowls of a thin soup.


Read more

Call for Artists!

(From left): AHSC  poster winners Imani Chapman and Dave San Pedro. You could be the next winner!

Call for Artists for the Asian Heritage Street Celebration POSTER CONTEST!
Read more

Peter Baggaley’s samurai-inspired Halloween costume

peter baggeley samurai costume

The following is a guest post by Peter Baggaley. Thanks, Peter!


The samurai armor pictured is a Halloween costume that I made using paper, string, and other household materials. Most high school students do not go trick-or-treating for Halloween. For the past few years, I have been a proud exception to this rule. My costumes are all handmade and reflect a historical warrior idea, in chronological order. First, I was a hoplite, a Greek heavy infantryman from the Bronze Age. I then progressed to a Roman centurion, followed by a Viking/barbarian. As I entered high school, I entered the middle ages in the guise of a crusader. Last year, I made the slight leap to Renaissance period infantry.

For this year’s costume, I was faced with a dilemma.
Read more