Carving and Printmaking

Our university’s international student center has a new artists and writers collective whose meetings Isabelle and I have been attending. At the last meeting, Isabelle taught everyone how to carve stamps out of plastic erasers with X-Acto knives. The erasers are nice and soft. For my first ever stamp design, I eventually decided on a bass clef, and the result wasn’t too bad. It’s like a rustic bass clef.

Two days later, we went to a linocut workshop hosted by the Horn Press, UCLA’s book arts society. Isabelle is quite experienced with linocut, but I had never done it before, and it’s a bit trickier than plastic erasers. We used gouges of various shapes and widths to carve linoleum plates mounted on wood blocks. It took me a while to come up with a design again. I tried thinking of things I used to draw when I was younger that I actually felt turned out well, and I remembered these little birds made of simple shapes for the crown, eye, beak, wings, tail, and feet. I don’t remember what originally inspired those drawings; I think I must’ve seen a brush painting somewhere. Anyway, I set to work with my gouge, and of course I picked a design that required me to carve away most of the plate. But I finished.

First print at the workshop

Later I did some additional cleanup with some of Isabelle’s tools, and I tried printing again.

Yesterday I went to the Japanese American National Museum to see Kip Fulbeck’s exhibit 15 years of the hapa project. I’ve blogged about what hapa means before and also about seeing Kip Fulbeck at the LA Times Festival of Books in 2017. For this exhibit, Fulbeck took new photographs of the participants in the original Hapa Project and again asked them to respond to the prompt, What are you? The result is about 40 double portraits separated in time by fifteen years, accompanied by the subjects’ original written statements and their new ones.

I wanted to see the exhibit because I’m always interested in explorations of mixed race Asian (American) identity, but I was also particularly looking to see how Fulbeck’s subjects engaged with their identity and the label hapa fifteen years later. I was curious whether some of the participants, like me, felt more ueasy claiming the word hapa than they used to in light of a growing sensitivity to the appropriation of a Hawaiian term. On this front, I was rather disappointed by the double portraits. There was basically no engagement with this specific question. I still enjoyed the photographs and the statements, though.

Only after I’d looked at all the portraits did I realize there was a panel on the wall on “The Etymology of Hapa.” Here, I thought Fulbeck might have wrestled with the question of who gets to call themselves hapa. I was again somewhat disappointed. The text recognized that different people think hapa means different things and some people argue that there is a right way (and thus implicitly a wrong way) for the term to be deployed. This appeared to be an oblique acknowledgment of the controversy over mainland multiracial Asian Pacific Americans identifying as hapa. But the text read as defensive to me, emphasizing as it did how language is constantly evolving. Sure, that’s true, but I don’t think that’s a shield we can step behind to avoid having to really question our claiming of hapa.

In the next gallery, there were eight albums of additional portraits with written statements. I believe these represented work from Fulbeck’s ongoing Hapa Project (I actually tried participating at the Japanese American National Museum a while ago, but they didn’t need any more people). The walls were also covered with miniature photographs of exhibit visitors, with accompanying answers to the What are you? question on half sheets of paper. (This interactive component only happens on Saturdays.) I read a bunch of these, and finally I found one that expressed what was on my mind: “I used to ID as ‘hapa’ but don’t feel like it’s my word to claim anymore as a mainland mixed kid.” I was honestly surprised not to see more of this. That said, in my experience, it’s younger (say, under 30?) multiracial Asian Americans who are more likely to choose not to call themselves hapa anymore. In any case, thank you, anonymous museum goer!

Women’s March LA 2018

Last Saturday I participated in the second Women’s March in Los Angeles. I went with Adam, a friend from the department. I was expecting a smaller crowd this year, and certainly public transportation was far less clogged (though that might’ve been in part due to Metro planning for massive crowds). But downtown, it still felt like a big turnout, and that was heartening.

Not everyone invested in resisting the current administration embraces the Women’s March, and I understand the dissatisfaction and the critiques. Others can and have expressed these much better than I could. The reason I marched on Saturday was because I wanted to help swell that crowd of protesters. I wanted the Women’s March to be big, and I knew the only way it would be was if countless individuals like me made the decision to show up.

Like last year, there were hundreds of signs, which varied in their content, tone, and degree of punninness. I took almost no pictures, but when I read a sign I really liked, I tried to tuck the words away in my memory. So here’s what stuck from my favorite signs:

  • We march for indigenous women
  • The revolution will be intersectional or it will be bullshit
  • Sex is cool and all but have you tried intersectional feminism?
  • Japanese Americans say: No Camps!

And also this one:

The best moment of the morning for me was when we were marching up Olive Street, past some tall apartment buildings. Several elderly Asian ladies were out on their balconies, each on a different floor. One looked benevolently down at us as she tended her plants. Another leaned against her railing, smiling and waving as we passed by. And a third stood on her balcony and raised her fists above her head, beaming as she watched us march. We cheered. She looked so happy.

Solar Eclipse!

I was a little worried when I woke up this morning to cloud cover, but Los Angeles’s typical sunniness came through in the end, and I was able to witness the partial solar eclipse (about 60%) visible here. A few of us from the department went to the UCLA Court of Sciences to view it. When we arrived, there was an enormous line we were afraid was for eclipse glasses. Turned out it was for both eclipse glasses and looking through the telescopes. Getting glasses looked like a bit of a lost cause, and indeed after we’d waited in line for a while someone else from the department farther ahead told us they’d run out. We improvised a pinhole camera from a sheet of paper nabbed from a campus newspaper stand and a business card someone poked a hole through with a pen. Then we abandoned the line and went to the center of the Court of Sciences. People who had eclipse glasses were happy to lend them to people like us, so we all got to peer at the eclipse directly after all.

We amused ourselves for quite a while by making improvised pinhole cameras out of various configurations of our hands and that same sheet of paper, and we attracted people who were curious about what we were doing and wanted to take pictures or try it out for themselves!

My hand, my head, and partial eclipse! (Photo by Isabelle)

We also saw some leaf shadow effects, though the crescents aren’t as spectacular as those I saw in photos from people who saw a more complete eclipse.

Hear Me on MPR Tomorrow!

I’m going to be interviewed about Wildings on Minnesota Public Radio tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec. 7th, at 10:00am Minnesota time (8:00am Pacific, 11:00am on the East Coast, etc.)! You should be able to listen online here, if you aren’t local to the Twin Cities. And if you miss it, you should also be able to listen to the segment online after the fact. I’ll probably post the link.