“Which Side Will You Be On?” #BlackLivesMatter and Comic Arts at Omi Gallery
By Sewon Chung Barrera
On March 23rd, a cross-cultural, intergenerational group of artists, comic-fans, activists, organizers, teachers, students, and entrepreneurs gathered at Impact Hub Oakland. We celebrated the opening of Kayan Cheung-Miaw’s exhibit “Dear Brother,” listened to one another, and began unpacking what it means to stand in solidarity for #BlackLivesMatter.
“Dear Brother” is a 6-panel comic art piece that asks a series of tough questions through a story of an Asian American sister whose younger brother becomes a police officer and one day, shoots and kills a black man. How are Asian American masculinities defined? Who benefits from systemic racial violence? What does solidarity between people of color look like? What are we doing to mentor the next generation? How can comics become a tool for organizing the community?
As a Korean American woman, “Dear Brother” was my first time encountering an art exhibit that depicts someone that looks like me–an Asian American immigrant and an older sister–as its central protagonist and hero.
Growing up, most of my experiences seeing Asian faces in media were in the form of caricatures, casted to carry on conversations in heavily accented broken English and marked as foreign. When I was nine years old, my family immigrated from Korea to a quiet suburban neighborhood in Virginia, boasted as one of the best school districts in the country. I adopted an English name “Christina,” which relieved all my teachers. In the fourth grade, I remember going on a day-long class field trip to Colonial Williamsburg to learn about pilgrims, the Thanksgiving meal, and tobacco plantations. One of my secret fears was going to school smelling like kimchi.
It was only during college–ironically located in Colonial Williamsburg–that I re-learned about our country’s immigration history in the context of systemic racism and the civil rights movement. When I turned 18 years old, I quietly let go of “Christina” and legally reclaimed my birth name. And for a decade, I journeyed from Colonial Williamsburg to Mexico City, Shanghai to Bangkok, Kyoto to Prague, Hanoi to Berlin, and Seoul to Oakland–perhaps to find myself.
When I arrived in Oakland two years ago as an adult in my twenties, I did not quite realize silence, too, was a choice. With the ex-NYPD officer Peter Liang’s indictment for killing Akai Gurley and the emergence of #Asians4BlackLives, I am learning to see myself in this time and place, in history. I am learning that I have the power to choose where I stand.
“Which side of the story will you choose to be on?”
“Dear Brother” by Kayan Cheung-Miaw will be on view in Impact Hub Oakland’s Upper/Level Omi Gallery until May 28, 2016.
“Dear Brother” Comics Workshop on Monday, April 18th at 7:00 PM: Hands-on comics workshop with Artist Kayan Cheung-Miaw and the Oakland Anti-Police Terror Project. RSVP here.
Exhibit Closing Reception + “Decolonizing Comics” Panel Discussion on Monday, May 16th at 7:00 PM: Panel discussion featuring local cartoonists of color who will share their work and how they use comics + personal narratives as openings to spark conversations about justice and freedom. RSVP here.
Photography by Becca Henry
Story by Sewon Chung Barrera
Sewon is a Creative Arts Practice Fellow at Omi Gallery, as well as an Oral Historian, Photographer, and Content Marketing Strategist. As a member of Impact Hub Oakland, Sewon and her brother co-founded a California-based online store and community for artisanal Korean goods. Sewon is also a Co-Founder of In Context Journal, an independent quarterly publication for oral historical work and thoughtful explorations of what it means to listen, to speak, and to be heard.