Standing Against Yellowface @ The MFA: “Kimono Wednesdays” Cancelled

9 07 2015

AAPI Activism shuts down “Kimono Wednesdays” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Protesters display signs on June 23 in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. The museum eventually canceled the 'Kimono Wednesday' event, which invited visitors to try on a replica kimono in front of Claude Monet's 'La Japonaise.' | AP / JOHN BLANDING / BOSTON GLOBE

Protesters display signs on June 23 in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. The museum eventually canceled the ‘Kimono Wednesday’ event, which invited visitors to try on a replica kimono in front of Claude Monet’s ‘La Japonaise.’ | AP / JOHN BLANDING / BOSTON GLOBE (via Japan Times)

Stand Against Yellowface @ the MFA:

Follow Amber Ying on Twitter


HuffPost:  Museum’s ‘Kimono Wednesdays’ Cancelled After Claims Of Racism

LA Times:  Boston art museum cancels kimono event after claims of racism

Japan Times:  Cries of racism prompt Boston art museum to cancel ‘Kimono Wednesdays’


MFA Kimono

Image and comment thread from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston Facebook page, post dated June 19, 2015. (via

BigRedAndShiny:  Demonstrators Protest Cultural Appropriation in MFA Galleries

Yellowface at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, February 19, 2015.

Yellowface at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, February 19, 2015.

Our Post on Yellowface at AAMSF (02/24/15):  Yellowface is Such a Drag

Of course, what would an AAPI protest be without a counterprotest on behalf of honorary white status:

Just a reminder that Orientalism is indeed integral to white supremacist structural racism (and no need to call it “neo” Orientalism, because after centuries of investment in this system of “knowledge,” it is liberal fantasy to believe it ever went away—case in point: the genealogy of East Asian studies at major US universities, aka “American Orientalism“).

Andrea Smith’s Three Pillars of White Supremacy (2010).

Andrea Smith’s Three Pillars of White Supremacy (2010).

Politics of Cultural Appropriation


#NotJustSAE What do a Racist Frat Party and the Asian Art Museum have in common?

10 03 2015
Culture as Costume cutouts

Culture as Costume Cutouts!

Above left is from a racist “Border Patrol” fraternity party in Texas last month; above right is from the opening for the SEDUCTION show at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, also last month.

From the Daily Texan:  Guests wear ponchos, sombreros and construction gear at 'border patrol' fraternity party, February 9, 2015.

From the Daily Texan: Guests wear ponchos, sombreros and construction gear at ‘border patrol’ fraternity party, February 9, 2015 (click for Daily Texan article).

You might expect this from a fraternity, but . . .

You might expect this kind of cultural appropriation from a fraternity, but . . .

. . . at a public museum in a city home to one of the largest Asian populations in the United States?

. . . at a public museum serving one of the largest Asian populations in the US?

Ponchos and sombreros at racist "Border Patrol" part at UT Austin last month (Photo: Julia Brouillette/The Daily Texan)

Culture as Frat Party Costume:  Ponchos and sombreros at racist “Border Patrol” part at Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at UT Austin last month, via SFgate (Photo: Julia Brouillette/The Daily Texan).

Culture as Costume as ongoing practice:  Screengrab from Asian Art Museum's flickr album of Maharaja Family Fun Day in 2011 (click for more).

Culture as Costume as ongoing practice: Screengrab of families playing “dress up” with Asian culture (pixellated here to protect the innocent), from Asian Art Museum’s flickr album of Maharaja Family Fun Day back in 2011 (click for more).

Orientalism is structural racism. Structural racism is racial bias that operates across institutions and society to produce systemic inequality.  It is maintained through a culture that normalizes and replicates everyday racism.  Whether at a frat house or a public museum, racial ideology is propagated through popular ideas and myths that perpetuate racial hierarchies.

Yellowface Is Such A Drag

24 02 2015

Orientalism, Drag, and White Supremacy at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

By Majime Sugiru

Remember this?

2011:  ‘We’re a culture, not a costume’

CNN (2011): Campaign by students at Ohio State University to prevent cultures from being translated into stereotypical costumes (click for story).

CNN (2011): Campaign by students at Ohio University to prevent cultures from being translated into stereotypical costumes for Halloween (click for story).

Or how about these, in 2012, 2013, 2014?

2012:  Victoria’s Secret’s racist Sexy Little Geisha

Racialicious: Victoria's Secret Does It Again: When Racism Meets Fashion (2012)

Racialicious (2012): Victoria’s Secret Does It Again: When Racism Meets Fashion

2013:  Katy Perry in Yellowface

LA Times (2013) Katy Perry performs onstage at the 2013 American Music Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 24, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

LA Times (2013): Katy Perry performs in Yellowface at the 2013 American Music Awards. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

2014:   Air France’s racist geisha ads

Colorlines (2014): Twitter Mocks Air France's Racist Geisha Ads

Colorlines (2014): Twitter Mocks Air France’s Racist Geisha Ads

2014:  CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” in Yellowface

Time (2014): Dear, ‘How I Met Your Mother': ‘Asian’ Is Not a Costume

Time (2014): Dear, ‘How I Met Your Mother’: ‘Asian’ Is Not a Costume

Time (2014): Dear, ‘How I Met Your Mother': ‘Asian’ Is Not a Costume

CBS TV’s “How I Met Your Mother” in Yellowface

And now, for 2015?
We give you the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco: photos taken at their “bold and bawdy” Courtesans, Cooks, Samurai, and Servants opening last Thursday, Feb. 19.

(Pixelated to protect the innocent).


It is as if the queerness of drag is somehow imagined to give ethnic drag a pass on racism.
 The exhibition is titled SEDUCTION and showcases art from the John C. Weber Collection.  The Asian Art Museum’s marketing department has outdone itself in hard-selling a show consisting primarily of premodern woodblock prints, scrolls, paintings, and kimonos as a “hotbed of hedonism and transgression,” as shown in this screen grab of the AAM’s website (taken on 10/31/14):

“Dive into this hotbed of hedonism . . .”

By contrast, when the very same John C. Weber Collection toured the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, it was titled simply “Arts of Japan” and encompassed a broad range of work that avoided altogether the AAM’s hypersexualized fetishization of the Asian female body, as shown in these screen grabs linked to their respective exhibition websites.

“Arts of Japan” at Museum of Fine Arts Boston: what, no courtesan?!

Weber Collection in Minneapolis: no mo’ “kimono my house”?

How does “Arts of Japan” get transfigured into SEDUCTION when it comes to the AAM?

The Asian Art Museum has a track record of Orientalist sensationalism, seen below, for example, in a similar contrast between the exhibition of the Hosokawa Collection in Japan, versus its reductively Orientalist conception at the AAM in 2009.

In Japan, this family collection of a former prime minister was respectfully titled, “The Lineage of Culture—The Hosokawa Family Eisei Bunko Collection”

The Lineage of Culture press release, Tokyo National Museum (pdf download)

The Lineage of Culture press release, Tokyo National Museum (pdf download)


Hosokawa Family Eisei Bunko Collection at the Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art

By contrast, here is the poster from AAM’s Vader-like take on the very same collection.

Lord It's the Samurai

Click the pic for our spoof:  Lord It’s the Samurai!

What we see emerging from these stark contrasts to museums in Boston, Minneapolis, Tokyo, and Okayama—and trust us, the list goes on—is a pattern of institutional behavior that sets the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco apart from its peers as exceptional.  Exceptional for a pathology of cultural violence, if you will, in its propensity to appropriate visual cultures of Asia for the production of what can be characterized as a sensationalist and essentializing racial discourse with real social consequences for the populations it is publicly funded to serve and (mis)represent (see p. 47 in this report, for examples of how museums “deny full citizenship to minorities“).

Different Year, Same Fetish — or The Return of the Repressed

The yellowface drag of the SEDUCTION opening takes us back more than a decade, to revisit the geisha fever of 2004.

Literally a white man's fantasy—written, directed, produced by white men—featuring Chinese actors as Japanese geisha.

Literally an Oscar-winning white man’s fantasy—written, directed, produced by white men—featuring Chinese actors as Japanese geisha—because all orientals look alike, or as Edward Said might have put it, “a collapsing of difference within a category of absolute difference.”

The Asian Art Museum cashed in on Hollywood’s white man’s fantasy with a blockbuster exhibition of its own.

Just like Hollywood: not only is she not a real geisha, she's not even Japanese.

Just like Hollywood: not only is she not a real geisha, she’s not even Japanese.

Whereas Hollywood cinema is the stuff of fantasy, this city-owned, taxpayer-bailed out civic museum, located in a metropolitan area home to one of the largest Asian populations in the US, is endowed with the unparalleled public trust and respect that come with its status as a putative site of knowledge production.

What kind of racial knowledge is the AAM producing in 2015 when they fetishize “Arts of Japan” as the “bold and bawdy” “hotbed of hedonism” of SEDUCTION?

It would seem to not only violate the civic museum’s charter of stewardship—to serve the cultural health and welfare of its communities—but also belie the eloquent words of the AAM’s own director, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004 in reference to their GEISHA exhibition, “The basic reason for the show was to debunk the myth that geishas are prostitutes.

The AAM's Orientalist fantasy writ large. GEISHA: Perpetuating the Fetish.

The AAM’s Orientalist fantasy writ large. GEISHA: Perpetuating the Fetish.

That’s the thing about Orientalism:  it’s not just that it’s made up of white lies, or that yellowface is not just a harmless glitch in the illusion of post-racial multi-cultural color-blind harmony in diversity, but it is indeed integral to and constitutive of a socially, culturally, and economically structured way of life called white supremacy.

Andrea Smith’s Three Pillars of White Supremacy (2010).

It is only natural to think that a museum that refers to itself as “The Asian” would historically be an Asian-run organization, but on the contrary—and unlike, say, the Mexican Museum—what’s one thing that the AAM’s Chief Curator, head of Communications & Business Development, head of Education & Public Programs, Curator of Japanese Art, event programmer, burlesque and belly dancers, and performers in yellowface (strikeout on 3/14/15, cf. Nick’s comment below) all have in common?Politics of Cultural AppropriationHow do Asian visual cultures “get owned” as the property of whiteness?

How does racial privilege structure Western museal discourse on “Asia” in ways that parallel the colonial genealogy of area studies in what has been termed the “missionary positionality” of US-Japan bilateral narcissism?

How does that raced missionary positionality inform the AAM’s gendered production of Asia as hotbed of hedonism in SEDUCTION, and whose hedonistic urge is the AAM really projecting?

Why is the Asian so white?

#WhitePeopleDoingYoga @ the Asian Art Museum

4 04 2014

#WhitePeopleDoingYoga 01

Last night I went to check out #WhitePeopleDoingYoga at the First Thursday event at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

#WhitePeopleDoingYoga is an installation by *Pardon My Hindi / Chiraag Bhakta.
On view from March 28th – May 25th.

#WhitePeopleDoingYoga 02

#WhitePeopleDoingYoga 03

Kudos to the museum’s education department for exhibiting Bhakta’s project, which is showing in the Education Resource Center in conjunction with the feature exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation.  While I couldn’t find much information about the project on the museum’s website, *Pardon My Hindi posted a video and artist statement here.

Chiraag Bhakta

Click for more on Chiraag Bhakta

Artist Statement

This piece is a reflection of my personal relationship, as an Indian American, with yoga and its migration to today’s Western context. I call this piece #WhitePeopleDoingYoga, the hashtag symbolizing the commercialization and commodification of a culture.

Not too long before moving to the Bay Area seven years ago, I began to collect grassroots-level meditation and yoga ephemera from the 1960s through the 1980s. During that era, particularly in the Bay Area, yoga started making a big impact on Western culture. I became interested in how yogic practice was being mined and commercialized; how the South Asian face of the discipline was being removed in the branding and portrayal of the practice and culture. Today, an online image search for “yoga” mainly returns images of white people in various poses, followed by images of dogs and cats doing the same.

This project is not about the individual pieces in my collection, but the overall voice that is put out in front of us, which is overwhelming and suffocating to me. After you go through the exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation, you will notice a sharp turn as yoga enters a new level of commercialization in the West. The $27 billion yoga industry in the U.S. has rebranded a complex and rich discipline to make it easier to sell “yoga” as a line of products. Brands like Lululemon and Nike have started appropriating and trademarking phrases, postures, and clothing—aligning and embedding themselves in our understanding of yoga. Simultaneously the South Asian face and voice are relegated to an exotic caricature—cartoons, adoption of South Asian names by Westerners, mystical creatures, Hindu gods. One archival study of the health and wellness magazine Yoga Journal found that over the course of two years “there was never a South Asian person on the cover, and less than one percent of content contributors were South Asian.”1

The act of selectively choosing what works in popular Western contexts, while ignoring aspects of yoga’s core philosophy and historic practice, is telling. It shows an ironic attachment of one’s ego to a desire for ownership over an ancient practice of material denouncement that emerged from an altogether different, South Asian, tradition.

In the end, I feel compelled to draw parallels between the current state of yoga and the industrial colonization by the same dominant voice that now adds another conquest to its collection. Meet the new founders of Yoga™.

—Chiraag Bhakta

1 Roopa Singh, Esq., Archival study for the South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America, SAAPYA

#WPDY totebags available at

#WPDY totebags available at

Meanwhile upstairs in Samsung Hall, mostly WhitePeopleDoingChanting


The Problem with Miss Saigon

15 10 2013

Via Racialicious
The Ordway Still Doesn’t Get Sexism and Racism (The Problem with Miss Saigon)

By Mai Neng Moua

Racism didn’t end with the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  The Ordway would never open a show about the “romance” between Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress Sally Hemmings.  The Ordway would never dream of mounting a play about the “romance” between a Jewish prostitute and a Nazi camp guard during World War II.  It would never open a show with actors and actresses in blackface performing a minstrel show.  The Ordway would find such shows racist and sexist.  The backlash in all those cases would be, justly, brutal.  Miss Saigon is exactly that with an Asian visage.  It’s not beautiful, it’s not romantic, and it’s not tragic in the tradition of Shakespearean drama.  Miss Saigon is racist and sexist.  The Asian community will continue to speak out about Miss Saigon because institutions such as the Ordway still don’t get it.

Read more

Miss Saigon With the Wind

13 09 2013

Miss Saigon With the WindBy Ricardo Levins Morales, originally posted at Opine Season:

I would like to invite the leadership of the Ordway Theater to a panel discussion on why I didn’t consult them before creating this poster and why they should be grateful for the extra attention it brings them. Of course that discussion will not affect my already developed plans to circulate the image as widely as possible, but at least it shows I’m listening. I may not actually be available to attend the panel discussion itself (I have a prior commitment to distribute some artwork as widely as possible). It might be best for them to have that discussion among themselves, in any case. Readers who feel motivated to do so are welcome to circulate this image in their online communities. Doing so might encourage that discussion to take place – and art is all about encouraging discussions.

Readers who have don’t know what this image and comments are about (the Ordway Theater’s return production of the racist blockbuster musical Miss Saigon) can check out this anti-review by Sheila Regan and this overview by David Mura.

What is Whiteness: Zimmerman, Asiana, and “What is Asia?” at the Asian Art Museum

15 07 2013

What do The Asian and the Zimmerman trial have in common? The Asian's White Dominance

In 1988, Gayatri Spivak asked, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”  Sadly, a full quarter century later, the answer at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is still, “Just barely.” For the Proximities 1 exhibition, the Asian Art Museum hired a white male curator with admittedly no background in Asian art to curate a show of contemporary work by local artists with a central theme of “What is Asia?”  This white curator in turn put together a show where six of the seven artists are white,  a number of whom—like Ruth Benedict—have never even been to Asia. What is “Asia”?  And who gets to answer?

“Does an artist or viewer have to be Asian or Asian American to consider the subject?” — Glen Helfand, guest curator, Asian Art Museum

“At the level of racial representation…  whites are not of a certain race, they’re just the human race.” — Richard Dyer, The Matter of Whiteness

“I don’t think this is a show about race.” — curator Helfand, interview at Bad at Sports

“Basically we have a system where people are calling it color blind when it’s really blind to privilege.  It’s blind to bias, it’s blind to racism.” — Makani Themba, The Praxis Project, heard today on KPFA’s Flashpoints

“It is not simply that White is a normate.  It is a preference.  It is also the case that in each arena, decision makers are acting inequitably and that their decisions have a cumulative impact.  These practices of racial inequality are clearly unfair.  They reveal that acting in ways that are unfair is part of a cultural norm.” — Imani Perry, More Beautiful and More Terrible

Anti-Asian-Racism"Asia" as distant land of foreign otherness

"Asia" of pure inventionMaster Narrative: European Colonialism

Proximities 1‘s “concept of ‘Asia'” revives the 18th century quest for paradise called Orientalism, a racial ideology of absolute difference in the false binary between here and there.


Answer:  Consider the whiteness of Proximities 1 against 2010 Census Data:

  • The Bay Area is home to the third largest Asian population in the United States.
  • Six of the Top 10 Cities with the Highest Percentage of Asians in the U.S. are in the Bay Area (Daly City, Fremont, Sunnyvale rank #1, 2, 3, respectively in the continental US).
  • More than one third of the population of San Francisco identifies as Asian.  (Note: one third of Sanford, Florida, where Zimmerman was tried, is black).
  • Whites are a minority in San Francisco.


Othering-Asia Final Question:  Why is “Asia” at The Asian always Over There? Or: Why this could never happen at MOAD or the Mexican Museum This summer we’ve seen a lot of art by local Asian-identified artists at Bay Area museums.  Oakland-based Hung Liu recently had a major retrospective at the Oakland Museum and currently has a show at the San Jose Museum of Art.  SJMA is also showing “New Stories from the Edge of Asia,” which consists entirely of the work of Asian American artists.  In 2008-9, the de Young hosted a major survey of work by Asian American artists spanning 1900-1970. Why is art by Asians living in the U.S. always at museums other than The Asian? Why is “Asia” at The Asian always already “somewhere else” other than here? In contrast to the Museum of African Diaspora and the Mexican Museum, the Asian Art Museum makes no acknowledgement of centuries of transnational migration in its mission statement.  Contrast this with the “Migrating Identities” show currently at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. How does The Asian’s narrative disavowal of the history of Asians in America contribute to the pernicious ‘perpetual foreigner’ stereotype that reared its ugly head last week?


KTVU gaffe

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